The Rapture – What it Is & What it is Not

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.

I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:44-54).

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived (Colossians 3:1-7).

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure (1 John 3:1-3).

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).

These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth (Revelation 3:7-10).

 

The Rapture – What it Is

The term or word, “rapture”, comes from one translation of the Greek word, “harpazoἁρπάζω, which could also be translated as “to seize”, “to carry off by force”, “to seize on” as in “to quickly and eagerly snatch ownership of something for one’s own”, or “to snatch out or away”. The Latin root word is rapio which means “to catch up” or “take away”, from which comes the extension of the word, rapiemur” meaning “we are caught up” or “we are taken away”. The same root word is used to describe a bird of prey, a raptor, which swoops down from the sky to “snatch up” its prey.

The word is used in the Scriptures to describe the very rapid taking up or snatching away of people in the flesh to also be immediately transformed into the spiritual, immortal body to be with Jesus in the spiritual realm, the air, when he comes in his glorious body to judge the earth and to also put an end to the rebellion against the kingdom of God led by Satan and the man of lawlessness in whom Satan will manifests the full extent of his power.   

Paul wrote the following:

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. ” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:1-10).

In the case of the above Scripture, the apostle Paul described someone, (whether referring to himself or to the apostle John, which I will not speculate to discuss in this particular document), who was  caught up to paradise, (from where Adam and Eve had been banished). Unlike the case mentioned in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, quoted above, where the believers still living in the time of Jesus’ appearing, would be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, when the dead will be raised imperishable, and the mortal will be changed with immortality. In the case of being caught up to paradise, Paul was uncertain as to whether it was in the body or out of the body (in other words, in that particular case of being caught up to paradise, the body had not been transformed from mortal flesh to an immortal body, but the person’s spirit was taken up into paradise).  

 

Enoch was bodily taken out of this world, (“raptured”), but he has not yet received the new, immortal body as far as we know, for that will be the case for all believers together at the close of the present age. However, Enoch was taken bodily, (snatched away out of this earthly realm), so that he did not experience death and his body was not to be found in this earthly realm.

 

By faith {same as saying, by faithfulness to God} Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith {which is quite the same as saying without the obedience that comes from genuine faithfulness to God, see below, i.e.obedience is the direct result of genuine faithfulness} – it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:5-6).

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God — the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1-6).

We are, in any case, required to put to death everything of our earthly, carnal (flesh) nature and live the new life in the realm of the Spirit as per Paul’s teaching (and as the writer to the Hebrew Christians taught, without holiness no one will see the Lord [in his radiant glory] (Hebrews 12:14). 

If people are not holy, they will be humbled and their faith tested and their character moulded by God through trials, (i.e. tribulation). The apostles all went through the first and great tribulation period which came uniquely upon the Jews, see also the Scripture quoted below with my comments inserted:

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God (Romans 8:12-14).

 

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath , when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress [same word translated elsewhere as tribulation] for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew [i.e. the great tribulation that came specifically on Jerusalem between 66 and 70 AD when the temple was destroyed and the city of Jerusalem besieged by the Roman army which brought great distress of the Jews], then for the Gentile [there will be global tribulation throughout the world through which believers’ faith will be tested, those who are impure and still caught up in sin should count it pure joy that their faith, which is of greater value than gold, will be tested through tribulation. Those who are not holy, like Enoch, but still entangled in sin, will certainly not escape the tribulation periods, great or otherwise, but their faith will be tested. They will either fall away from the faith and join the rebellion, or they will be purified and required to endure in their faith even to the point of death]; but glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favouritism (Romans 2:5-11).

John wrote from the isle of Patmos, after having endured immense persecution through the tribulation which came upon Israel at the hands of the Roman army – and he referred to himself as being one with the many other persecuted Christians in the period of the tribulation that came first uniquely upon the Jews.

There is no basis for expecting a seven year period of tribulation which has been suggested in error by a misinterpretation of Daniel chapter 9 which has already been completely fulfilled as in the period of distress that came upon Jerusalem at which time the temple was destroyed. (But this document has been written to address the rapture and not “the great tribulation”).

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering – [quite literally and more accurately translated as: I, John, your brother and companion in the tribulation] – and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea” (Revelation 1:911).

The very purpose of tribulation is to warn the people, by God’s grace and mercy, to repent and call upon his Name to be saved. Periods of tribulation, whether great and small, are an opportunity to share the gospel. When things are being shaken and people are troubled, afraid, uncertain and looking for the meaning of it all, we may have the opportunity of proclaiming the gospel. 

Many professing Christians believe in vain that they will automatically escape tribulation. But if they are sinful, unholy, compromised with the world, then the very purpose of the periods of tribulation for them is that their faith may be purified. However, do not think you will escape tribulation as an easy escape from the world, if the world and its evil ways are still very much a part of you. You need to be purified and made holy before you will see the Lord in his glory, so be prepared to endure tribulation, not as something strange happening to you, but of great worth so that it may purify you as fire purifies gold.

 

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good (1 Peter 4:12-19).

When Peter wrote this letter the church was being persecuted and Jerusalem was about to go through a period of great tribulation so that Jesus had warned his disciples that when they saw the city being surrounded by the Roman armies, they should flee without even trying to gather their belongings, because, as it indeed happened, the siege closed extremely quickly and then people who tried to escape from Jerusalem under siege, were crucified.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials [same word for tribulations] of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do (James 1:28). 

The Rapture – What it Is Not

The rapture is not the taking out of the world all Christians regardless of their sin and compromise with the world. There is no such place in the afterlife as purgatory, as was suggested by teachers within Roman Catholicism, where the souls of the deceased are purified beyond this present life in the world and in the flesh. This world and all the trails we may encounter in a lifetime are for the main purpose of refining us and bringing us to the knowledge of the Lord and his eternal purpose.

These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth (Revelation 3:7-10).

Even in the great tribulation which came upon Jerusalem at the time of the Roman siege, there were many faithful Christians who heeded Jesus’ words and who fled from the city to places of safety. Others were distracted by their jobs, their possessions and even by the care they received from other family members – and either through their neglect and unfaithfulness, or because they were prepared to suffer on account of unbelieving family members whom they cared for, they were trapped in Jerusalem when the siege closed in on the city. Yet, even then, there were many who survived the siege and were offered clemency from Rome and their lives were spared. The point that I am making is that some escape trials, while others like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego remain faithful but endure through the fire.

The point is also that the fire we are really saved from is not periods of tribulation, but the second death in the lake of fireBy the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

“Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer [through various tribulations]. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days [not a literal ten days, but a relatively short period]. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death (Revelation 2:10-11).

In the times of tribulation, past, present and future, Christians have been required to remain faithful even through great persecution and to the point of death. The Book of Revelation describes the final onslaught of evil against the church of Jesus Christ but we are triumphant through faith and told not to fear the one who can kill the body and then do no further harm.

The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise its authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. It was given power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world. Whoever has ears, let them hear. “If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity they will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword they will be killed” (Revelation 13:5-10).

Thank you to Noel Woodbridge for making the following comment: “Most versions use the word ‘he’ instead of ‘it’ for the beast in the above passage. I prefer ‘he’, because the beast is just a symbol for a real person.” I believe that the beast may also be used, not only for a real person, but also for a national power.

Indeed, make no mistake and let no person lead you astray, the rapture is not an escape from tribulation for Christians, counting oneself as having died with Christ, by putting to death the flesh and it deeds and being raised to a new life by the Holy Spirit is the way to escape the wrath of God – and eventually through death or by remaining faithful to the coming of our Lord and saviour. Tribulation is the fire which will purify our faith.

Furthermore, let no person lead you astray and offer false assurances; the rapture is not a separate and secret event which will happen before the coming of the Lord. It is a simultaneous event that when Jesus appears in his glory, we will see him in his glory and immediately be snatched up from the earth and be transformed into immortality and join him as the victorious King as he comes to destroy Satan’s rebellion at the close of the present age.

This document is written to address the question of a so-called, secret “pre-tribulation” rapture as a separate event to the second coming of Jesus. It is not to also address the heresy of the so-called future, literal one thousand year reign of Christ. The number one thousand has always been used for figurative purposes to describe the full number, for example:

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked (Psalm 84:10).

I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the insects in the fields are mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it (Psalm 50:9-12).

The devil offered to Jesus the glory and splendour of all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus, being in the flesh and made a little lower than the angels, would have bowed down to worship the devil.

However, from the beginning of the period of the preaching of the gospel, Satan has been bound from giving such power to any other human being until shortly before the end of the present age, i.e. towards the end of the thousand years (not literally a thousand years).

However, shortly before the close of the present age and the appearing of Jesus in his glory and our being gathered to him, Satan will be released for a short time to manifest himself in humanity in the flesh. Humanity in the flesh was intended to be a temple of living stones of human beings built into a temple in which God lives by his Spirit. But all who reject the truth of the gospel, will be handed over to a powerful delusion, at which time Satan will set himself up in God’s temple, human beings in the flesh, and will proclaim himself to be God. This will be an event that will take place before Jesus comes, for Jesus’ coming will put an end to that very rebellion – and it is also an event that will happen, before the faithful believers are gathered to him (in the rapture).

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him [one simultaneous event], we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter —asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day [i.e. the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him] will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3).

When Jesus comes at the close of this present age, he will finally destroy all rebellion at his coming. There will not be a further thousand years, (of a supposed future millennial reign on the earth with evil still being allowed to fester on the earth), on the contrary, it will be at his coming that the new heaven and earth will be revealed and the heavenly city of Jerusalem be unveiled from heaven – which is accord with the parallel reading in the Book of Revelation.

Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 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. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming.

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness (2 Thessalonians 2:5-12). 

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.

I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.

When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth —Gog and Magog —and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Revelation 20:1-10).

One passage of Scripture which has most often been referred to as suggesting that people are secretly snatched out (raptured) from the world supposedly into a place of safety and protection, is the following from Matthew 24:36-44:

Jesus taught:

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:36-44).

I do not have the time at this stage of writing this article to include a full commentary on Matthew 24. So I will say the following very briefly and perhaps later insert a reference to the full commentary on Matthew 24.

Jesus said to the people who heard him speaking at that time, that that very generation would not pass away until all the things spoken of in Matthew 24 had been fulfilled. All of the things spoken of in Matthew 24, which included the siege on Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, all indeed happened in that very generation. Also including the following words of Jesus, “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man [being] in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30). 

Jesus had even told the Sanhedrin that they would witness the Son of Man “coming upon the clouds”- and elsewhere in the Scriptures, the term “coming upon the clouds” refers to coming in judgment and in the glory and power of God in heaven. Indeed, that very generation witnessed God’s judgment upon Jerusalem vindicating Jesus as the Messiah and a true Prophet. The swift judgment upon Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple were the extremely conclusive signs that Jesus was enthroned in heaven at the Right Hand of God with all authority given to him on earth and in heaven.

Now, let us consider the reference to the verses which speak of one person being taken and the other left “behind” – and as I mentioned, this does not refer to one person being supposedly taken in the rapture while the other is “left behind”.

On the contrary, I will conclude this article by referring to an excellent and very comprehensive article by Paul T. Penley in which he refutes the so-called “secret, pre-tribulation rapture” heresy which was a misleading and novel idea introduced by John Nelson Derby into the church towards the end of the 1800s.

Please see Paul Penley’s article at this link: Left Behind or Taken: Which One is Better at Jesus’ Promised Judgement? 

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