Thursday, August 31, 2017

Is the Rapture taught in the Bible?

             I believe there’s going to be rapture of the true believers before the tribulation starts (which I looked at in "The End Times" post, so some of this will be review of that).  

             In this post, I’m going to list which significant passages I think refer to the Rapture and which refer to the Visible Second Coming, which will happen at the 6th seal, during the tribulation.  This is all just my opinion.  I do not claim to have any special revelation from God.  It’s just the best way I make sense of Scripture.
 

             Before I get into the verses, keep this in mind:
          1.  All “coming of the Lord” passages that include something about Jesus coming in power and great glory and with angels pertain to the visible second coming of Jesus at the 6th seal during the tribulation.  (However, there are some passages that refer to the visible coming which don’t use those words, but you can tell by the context, by the fact that they were already talking about the big “end of time” visible second coming.  And He also comes again visibly at the end of the trib for the battle of Armageddon, so that coming is referred to at times.  But neither of these "visible comings" are the rapture.)
          2.  None of the passages that pertain to the rapture have the words “in power and great glory and with angels.” 
 

             This helps clear up a lot of confusion about which “coming” the passage is referring to.  





 
Basically, there is not just one coming of Christ and there is not just one group of people taken out of the earth. 

 



Christ's Comings
             I believe there are a few comings of Christ, but they are all a part of His returning again, of His "second coming," after the church age.  His return is more like a process, in stages, than it is one single event.  And the stages include:

         1.  His invisible coming to rapture the Church out before the trib,

            2.  His visible coming to take out the believers who are going through the trib (the 6th seal) and

            3.  His visible coming at the end of the trib for the battle of Armageddon and to set up His 1000-year earthly reign. 



            [I will go over the verses more in depth later, but here are the verses that correspond with the various comings:

            The rapture: 1 Corinthians 15:51-57,  1 Thessalonians 1:10 and 4:15-17,
John 14:2-3, 2 Timothy 4:8, Matthew 24:27,  Luke 17:22-37,  Matthew 24:36 - 25:30,  Mark 13:32-37,  Luke 21:34-36,  Revelation 3:10

            The Visible Second Coming at the 6th seal:  Matthew 24:29-31,  Mark 13:24-27,  Luke 21:25-27,  Revelation 6:12-14

            The Armageddon Coming:  2 Thessalonians 1:7 and 2:1, 8  (These could possibly refer to the 6th seal coming, but I think it fits the Armageddon one better.)  Revelation 19:11-15  (Notice the part that says His eyes are like "blazing fire."  And we just saw that the 2 Thessalonians 1:7 coming says that He will be revealed from heaven "in blazing fire."  Another reason to think 2 Thessalonians is talking about Armageddon instead of either of the other two appearances.)]

   

Groups Of People Taken From The Earth
            And there are several different groups of people taken out of the earth at different times.  A different group is taken out before each new set of judgments is unleashed.  Revelation calls these groups what they are.  And it goes in order.  When they are introduced in Revelation is when they showed up in heaven, when they were taken out of the earth. 

            1.  One group is the raptured Church, represented by the elders who are around the throne in Rev 4:4.  This is why I think it’s a pre-trib rapture - because they are there before the seals are opened, before the trib starts.  This group is taken out in the “twinkling of an eye” rapture when the dead in Christ rise first and then the living (1 Thess. 4:15-17 and 1 Cor. 15:51-52).  They are the believers who stayed awake, as warned in Matt 24:36-25:30.  (The ones who were not ready or who were not genuine believers were left behind.)   


            2.  One is the “great multitude” taken out of the great trib at the 6th seal, before the trumpets start.  This would be everyone who came to faith after the rapture, during the seals.  They are called “those taken out of the great tribulation” (Rev 7:14).  And that’s exactly who they are.  This multitude is taken out when Jesus comes back visibly to earth at the 6th seal, with power and great glory and with angels, preceded by the cosmic events of the sun being darkened, moon turning to blood, stars falling, etc.     

            3.  One is the “harvest of the earth,” of those who were “victorious over the beast and his image and number” (seen in Rev 15:2 but harvested in Rev 14:14-16).  They are harvested from the earth after the trumpet judgments but before the bowl judgments.  They became believers after the “great multitude” was taken out and they were around to experience the beast’s number and image. 

            4.  And one is the group of dead martyrs who rise before the “thousand years” start (Rev 20). 


 

            Revelation tells us who these groups of people are and when they were taken from the earth (but it takes some digging to figure out the elders).  Don’t try to identify these groups as anything other than what Revelation calls them.  That’s when we run into trouble and things get messy.  But it’s much clearer when you realize they are all separate groups, taken at different times and in different ways and given different rewards/jobs.  (And how merciful of our God to take out the newest believers before the next set of judgments is unleashed.  That sounds just like Him!) 



[FYI - I have never run across another person who separates Jesus's comings into three different ones.  Instead, they usually combine the rapture and the 6th seal coming or combine the 6th seal coming with Armageddon or combine them all into one.  Nor have I seen anyone who thinks 2 Thessalonians is about the "Armageddon" coming, as most people think it's about the rapture or the 6th seal coming.  Nor have I seen anyone who considers the post-trumpet "harvested" group to be a separate group of people taken from the earth.  But it's what I think best fits with Scripture.]
 


Okay, now onto the passages: 
 



Rapture Passages  

(I’ll be expounding on what I already wrote and tying verses together to show that the Bible does indeed teach the rapture and that the books of the Bible tell one cohesive story, written by God Himself through men):
 

            1 Corinthians 15:51-52 – this is the rapture.  “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, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”

            (This trumpet is not the same thing as the last trumpet judgment.  So don’t place the rapture there.  The trumpet in this verse – according to the concordance – is a reference to the military, like a call to gather, to assemble together, such as seen in Numbers 10:2-7.  It’s not a reference to the trumpet judgments.  It’s God’s trumpet blast to call all true believers to gather together to meet the Lord in the air.)    

 

            1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 – this describes the same event as above.  “According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till 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.”

            [I found something interesting ... or maybe not.  But in the King James Version, there are only two times when the word "trump" is used instead of trumpet.  And it's in these last two passages.  Could it be that God wanted to tie these two passages together, showing that they are indeed the same event and that they are different from other "trumpets," such as the Revelation trumpet judgments?  (Or could it have something to do with President Trump?  Some people think this is the case.)  At the very least, I think it shows these two passages go together and that they are not talking about the trumpet judgments of the tribulation.]



            2 Timothy 4:8 - those who are taken out are those who have longed for the coming of the Lord (the ones who were ready, who heeded the warnings of Matthew 24:36-25:30 to be alert and awake).  “Now there is in store for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”  I believe this crown is the same crown the elders wear in Revelation 4:4, showing that the elders represent the raptured church.  And I believe “that day” is the day of the rapture.  After the rapture, the earth gets ready to go into the tribulation while the elders go to the throne room and the church (the true believers, the “ready and waiting and awake” believers) goes to the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21).
 
            The New Jerusalem is (I believe) the “Father’s house” with many rooms, the place Jesus is preparing for us right now.  John 14:2-3:  “In my Father’s house are many rooms … I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”


            For further proof that the elders are tied to the raptured church which is tied to the New Jerusalem: There are 24 elders around the throne in Rev 4.  And there are 24 names that are written on the foundations and gates of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:12-14.  These 24 names are the names of the twelve tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles, thereby representing pre-Jesus believers and post-Jesus believers.  I believe those 24 names on the New Jerusalem are the names of the 24 elders who represent the true believers of all time, the ones who have been taken to the New Jerusalem, the Father’s house. 


            And in Rev 21:2, the New Jerusalem is seen coming down out of heaven “prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”  The Church is the “bride of Christ.”  After the rapture, while the rest of the world is going through the trib, the church goes to the New Jerusalem where it is being “prepared” to be presented to her “husband,” to Christ. 


            [Another thing that makes me think the elders represent the raptured believers is that we get a view of the throne of God in Ezekiel 1, but there is no mention of elders around the throne at that time.  So they must come at a later date.  At the rapture. 
            Also, on a different note ... Look for a moment at Revelation 1:6.  John says that we were made to be a "kingdom and priests".  I believe that John is addressing the Church here, saying that believers of the church-age will be a kingdom and priests.
            And what is it that the elders sing in Revelation 5:9-10?
            They sing about Jesus's blood purchasing men and making them to be a "kingdom and priests".   And the King James version even says "made us kings and priests." 
            I don't think the elders are referring to those who are taken out of the earth after the seals, from the "great tribulation," during the visible coming of Jesus at the 6th seal.  Because that is still a ways off, since the seals haven't even started opening yet at the time the elders say this.    
            I don't think they are referring to a future group of redeemed people (notice the past tense use of "purchased" or "redeemed," not future tense of "will be" purchased or redeemed).  But I think they are referring to a group that has already been redeemed before the seals open - specifically, the group of people they represent, the church-age believers who are raptured out before the seals open and who have gone to "the Father's house," the New Jerusalem.  
            I think the elders are referring to the raptured church who was taken out before the seals open.  Those of "the great multitude," taken out of the great tribulation at the visible coming of Jesus at the 6th seal have their own celebration/introduction several years later, after the seals, in Revelation 7.  Additionally, they have their own roles - to be before the throne, serving God day and night in His temple, not to be kings and priests who will reign on the earth.
            Two different groups of people - one taken out before the seals, represented by the elders, and one taken out at the end of the seals.  The raptured church before the seals start and the tribulation believers after the seals, at Jesus's visible coming.  The more I read the Bible the more I believe it!]    

 

            Revelation 3:10-12 – a description of the believers who will be raptured, the true church, called the Philadelphia church.  In a time when people are falling away from the faith, they are faithful to the Word of the Lord and do not deny His name.  And so God promises to keep them from “the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole earth the test those who live on the earth.” 

            The tribulation is a time to test people’s allegiance, a time for all people to make their final decision about Jesus, to decide if they will choose the Lord or choose Satan.  And it’s a time for God to pour out His wrath on unbelievers.  But since these faithful believers have already made their decision to stand with and for the Lord, they do not need to be tried or tested, nor do they have to face God’s wrath.  There is no reason for them to be there during the trib, so they are taken out.  (1 Thessalonians 1:10 also refers to the fact that we are waiting for Him, for Jesus, who “rescues us from the coming wrath.”)

            Notice also in Revelation 3:11 that the Philadelphia believers are told to not let anyone take their crown.  I believe this is the same crown of righteousness the elders are wearing, the one given to those who longed for the Lord, those who remained awake and ready for the Lord to come back at any time.  This links the Philadelphia church of Rev 3 with the rapture of the faithful believers and the elders who represent them. 

            These Philadelphia believers are also promised that they will be made a pillar in the temple (the elders around the throne?) and that Jesus will write on them the name of the New Jerusalem (the Father’s House, where Jesus takes the raptured believers), creating an even stronger link between this church and the elders and the raptured believers.

            [One other interesting note about the Philadelphia church … Rev 3:8 refers to an “open door that no one can shut” which is set before this church.  Many have said this means that it’s an evangelizing church, that the “open door” is a door to the world, to go out and tell others about Christ.  And maybe this is so. 

            Or … maybe it’s a reference to the rapture?  Maybe the “open door” is the door to heaven and this church (the true believers) is allowed to enter it? 

            Look at Rev 4:1:  “After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven.  And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said ‘Come up here …’”     

            John saw a door open in heaven (same door the Philadelphia church gets to enter?)... and he hears a voice like a trumpet (any relation to the trumpet during the rapture in 1 Cor 15:51-52 and 1 Thess 4:15-17?)... and the voice says “Come up here”... and John is immediately in the spirit and taken up to heaven.  Could this be a foreshadowing of the rapture?  What the Philadelphia church will experience?]

 

            I also think we might find a reference to the rapture in the Old Testament.  In Malachi 3:16-18, we read that the Lord makes a “scroll of remembrance” in which he records those who feared the Lord and honored his name.  “They will be mine in the day when I make up my treasured possession.  I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him.  And you will again see the distinction between those who serve God and those who do not.” 


            This is a promise to those who are faithful to Him.  They will be His on the day He makes up His treasured possession.  I think that day is the rapture, when He gathers up all those who belong to Him. 


            Both the Philadelphia believers and those on the scroll are promised to be “spared.” 


            Spared from what?  I think they will be spared from the tribulation, from God’s wrath, and from damnation.  The Philadelphia believers are spared because they were faithful, wise servants who watched for the Lord’s coming and did His work.  And those on the scroll are spared in the same way “a man spares his son who serves him,” because they feared the Lord and honored His name. 


            And on the day these people are spared (gathered up at the rapture), everyone will see how God rewards (spares) those who are true believers (Malachi 3:18 and Rev 3:9).  Everyone will see a clear distinction between those who are true believers and those who are not.

 

            Ephesians 1:13-14, 4:30 – An interesting note:  In the church age, we are marked with the Holy Spirit.  “Having believed, you were marked in [Christ] with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the day of redemption of those who are God’s possession.”  I believe that day is the rapture.  On that day, God will take out the Holy Spirit and all those marked with the Holy Spirit, before the tribulation starts. 

            And I think this is confirmed in Revelation 7:3 (after the start of the tribulation, at the end of the seal judgments).  In this passage, we read that 144,000 people will be sealed by God.  But there is no mention of them being sealed with the Holy Spirit like the church-age believers.  Instead, these tribulation believers are sealed on the forehead with the seal of God.  Things are done differently once the church and the Holy Spirit are taken out.  (Or it could be that these are not necessarily believers ... but are simply Jewish people that have been marked by God to be spared from what happens in the trib.  That's a possibility too.)
 
 

 

Matthew 24               

            And two other passages that I think might refer to the rapture (but I’m not sure because this just came to me the other day, so I’m still noodling around with it):
 

            Matthew 24:27 and Luke 17:22-37
 

            I believe Matthew 24 is one of the clearest teachings about what will happen in the end times.  And it includes three different answers that Jesus gives the disciples, an answer for each question they asked.

            In verse 3, they ask Jesus when the temple will be destroyed, what the sign of His coming will be, and what the sign of the end of the age will be.  I believe His coming is a series of events, starting with the rapture which marks the end of the “church age” and ending with Him returning for the battle of Armageddon and setting up His 1000-year earthly reign.

            Matthew 24:4-25 is Jesus’s answer to when the temple will be destroyed, which happened in 70 AD.  However, I think this passage is one of those with a “near – far” fulfillment, when there is a fulfillment of it in Bible times and then another fulfillment of it much later, at the end of time. 

            Verse 25 ends the “temple destruction” answer, when He says “See, I have told you ahead of time.”  He’s basically saying, “See, I’ve told you everything you need to know about the temple destruction ahead of time.” 

 

            And then He shifts to the “far fulfillment” in verse 26 and to His answer about the signs of His coming.  The far fulfillment of the distress He talked about will happen in the trib.  And the “signs of His coming” refers to the signs of His visible coming (not the rapture) at the 6th seal to take out the tribulation believers.  This is when He begins to destroy the Antichrist and evil.  After He removes His people in the trib, God begins pouring out His wrath on the Antichrist and the wicked people of the earth.  And then Jesus comes back again at the end of the trib for the battle of Armageddon and to set up His own 1000-year earthly kingdom.

            This shift to the far fulfillment (to tribulation times) is signaled by Jesus repeating the command to not believe those who say that He is in the desert or in the inner room.  He’s saying that in those days (the days we are in now and up until He is revealed), He will not be here in body, so don’t go looking for Him.

            He then refers again to “distress,” like the distress they would experience at the temple’s destruction.  This time, however, the “distress of those days,” is referring to what happens during the tribulation.  (Basically, the same kinds of things that happened in 70 AD (verses 4-25) will happen during the tribulation.)

            In verse 26, He is telling them that up to the tribulation, He will not be here in bodily form, so don’t believe those who’ve said they’ve seen Him.  He tells them that everyone will know for sure when He comes back again - because after the distress of those days (of the tribulation), there will be signs in the heavens (sun turning dark, moon turning to blood, stars falling) and everyone will see Him coming on the clouds with power and great glory and with His angels, to collect His people.

            Once again, this is referring to His visible second coming at the 6th seal to take out the great multitude from the great tribulation (Revelation 6:12-17, 7:9-17).  This is Jesus’s answer to the disciples’ question of “what will be the sign of Your coming.”  It is the visible second coming Jesus tells us about, not the rapture (which has no signs).  


 

            His third answer is the answer to the disciples’ third question.  The “signs of the end of the age” is when He talks about the rapture because the rapture is the end of the age – the end of the church age.  That's what I believe He is talking about in these verses.  This answer starts in Matthew 24:36 and goes on until Matthew 25:30. 

            He starts by saying “No one knows about that day or hour...”  I think that “day or hour” is a reference to the end of the church age, when He raptures the church out.  He warns us to be ready for that day, to stay awake and not fall asleep spiritually. 

            There is no need to warn us to stay awake for His visible second coming.  This happens during the tribulation when there is great persecution and when many signs are being fulfilled on a very clear time-table.  There will be no chance of “falling asleep” at that time.  And we will be able to nearly pinpoint the timing of His visible coming.     

            But in Matthew 24:36 and up, we are warned to stay awake, to not fall asleep, because no one knows when that day will happen.  This is not a reference to the visible coming which needs no warning to stay awake … but to the rapture, which will come at a time when things are going on like normal and we are tempted to fall asleep spiritually and neglect His coming. 

 

            Now, this is where the new idea hit me.  I was wondering the other day why Jesus didn’t mention the rapture as one of the signs leading up to His visible coming.  There is the warning of the wars, famines, persecution, the sun turning dark, etc.  But why no mention of the rapture?  Surely that would be a huge sign, a huge wake-up call.

            And then I found it.  And I realized it had been there all along.

            Matthew 24:27:  “For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

            I always assumed this verse referred to the visible coming, which is talked about in verses 29-31.  But now I think it might be a reference to the rapture.  And it fits neatly with the time-line. 

            This verse comes after a time of Jesus’s absence (verse 26), when we are warned to not believe reports that Jesus has come back again in bodily form.  (This is the time we are in now, waiting for Him to return but He is not here yet.)  And then this "lightning coming" is mentioned (verse 27).  And then verse 29 refers to the “distress of those days,” a reference to the tribulation, to the far fulfillment of verses 4-25.

            Basically, it’s “Jesus is not here yet, so don’t believe reports that He’s come back. Because when He does come back for us at the rapture, it will be like lightning (“in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye”).  And then there will be the distress of the tribulation, followed by the cosmic signs, followed by Him returning visibly at the 6th seal for the tribulation believers.”

            It all fits in order when you consider that He is referring to the rapture in verse 27.  (Who knows … maybe the rapture will happen with an actual flash across the sky, like lightning?)  And then He goes on to explain more thoroughly what the days will be like when the rapture happens in Matthew 24:36 and on.  The end of the church age will be “like the days of Noah.”  Men will be rebellious and not heeding the warnings that the end is coming.  And the church will even be falling away or at risk of falling asleep.  And then during this time, one will be taken and the other one left.

 

 

Luke 17:22-37

            When I was trying to sort all this out, I got confused by Luke 17:22-37.  Because Luke refers to the same kinds of things that we see in Matthew 24, but in a different order, an order which wouldn’t fit with a pre-trib rapture. 

            Similar to Matthew, Luke refers to “don’t believe the reports that Jesus has come back.”  Then he talks about the Son of Man coming back like lightning.  The he talks about the how that day (the time period when the rapture happens) will be like the “days of Noah” (okay, so far, so good, like the order of Matthew). 

            But then he refers to the fact that when that day happens, no one should go back and get his belongings.  This sounds an awful lot like the warning Matthew gives to tribulation believers, the far fulfillment of the “distress,” verses 17-18.  But then after giving this warning, Luke goes back to the idea of two people being in bed or working, when one is taken while the other one is left – a reference to the rapture, I believe. 

            This would mean that Luke sandwiches a tribulation event into the rapture, making it sound like those who are supposed to be raptured will be around to experience the distress of the tribulation.  (And many Christians do believe this - that the rapture happens at the 6th seal only, not before the tribulation.)    

            As I studied it, I thought, “Either I have been wrong all along or I am missing something here.”

            I read and cross-references and contemplated and prayed … until it dawned on me:

            I had been assuming all along that Luke 17:22-37 was the same discussion Jesus had with the disciples in Matthew 24:4-35.  And you all know what happens when we assume things!  (The most frustrating problems I cause myself are when I have a preconceived idea of what a passage is referring to and then I try to make the pieces fit, when it’s actually not talking about what I think it is.) 

            But this is not Luke’s account of Matthew 24:4-35.  This is not when Jesus is talking to His disciples on the Mount of Olives, answering the questions about the temple and His visible coming.  Luke’s account of that is in chapter 21.  But Luke 17 is a completely different discussion. 

            Luke did not write two different chapters about the Mount of Olives discussion.  He wrote about two different discussions about different things. 

            And I believe that Luke 17 is a discussion only about the rapture and the timing of the rapture.  It’s a longer version of what Jesus said in Matthew 24:26-28, about Jesus’s “lightning” coming.  The rapture. 

            Basically, when you are reading Matthew 24 and you get to verses 26-28, flip to Luke 17:22-37.  It fits right in.  And it adds a little to what we know about the rapture.

 

            If I am right in this (and I am not sure I am), Jesus's warning in Luke to not go back and get anything from your house on the day He is revealed like lightning is not a warning for the tribulation, but for the rapture.  

            (But Matthew 24:17-18 is about the tribulation.  Same kind of warning applied at two different times.  But Matthew adds the instruction to run to the mountains, an instruction for those alive at the temple’s destruction and again for those alive during the trib.  Luke does not add this instruction because it’s not about the tribulation.  It’s about being ready to leave life behind to go up in the rapture.) 

            In Luke 17, Jesus is warning believers of the church age to not cling to this life or you will be left behind in the rapture.  We are to have our eyes always on Him, to live in expectation of His coming, and to be ready to leave it all behind when He comes back for us. 

            Not being ready to leave it all behind will cause you to be left behind, as seen in the example of Lot’s wife (verse 32).  She was on her way to being rescued from the coming wrath, but she turned back and looked longingly at her life.  And in doing so, in choosing her life over her salvation, she lost her life.



            Luke 21:36 (also about the rapture, this time in the Mount of Olives discussion) says that we are to always be watching and to pray that we may be able to escape all that will happen (i.e. the tribulation events), to pray that we will be able to stand before the Son of Man (to confidently stand before Him in the rapture). 


            If all of this is about the rapture, then I think it tells us that we can indeed lose our place in the rapture by not being ready, by clinging to our life, by falling asleep spiritually, by not having been faithful enough to stand before Him.  (Also see the post “Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth”.) 


           It’s like Lot and his family.  They were given the opportunity to be spared from the devastation that befell Sodom and Gomorrah, but they had to choose to be spared from it by obediently running away to the safe place and not looking back.  Yet Lot’s wife looked back, longing for home, and she was turned into a pillar of salt.


            If I am right, then we Christians have an effect on whether or not we are taken up with Him at the rapture.  We have to decide ahead of time if we are willing to leave all this behind or if we want to cling to this life … if we are truly longing for Him to come back again or if we are comfortable here … if we are going to live for Him or for ourselves … if we are ready for Him to return and doing His Will or if we are going to be distracted by the trappings of this life and live for temporary pleasures.  This is what will determine if we are ready to go with Him or if we will look back like Lot’s wife did, clinging to our life. 


            But once again, we can escape “all that is about to happen” by being ready and being willing to leave this life behind.  The ones that want to be taken with Jesus will be taken with Jesus.  The ones that want to be left with their life on earth will be left on earth.  (If I am right.) 


            [This warning could also mean that when the rapture happens, we will have a moment to choose, a split second to make up our mind if we will look to Him or look back to our life, if we will choose Him or choose our earthly life.   
            We often say that the rapture happens in "the twinkling of an eye," which would leave no time to second guess, to try to run back to get your stuff.  But if you really think about it ... it's the transformation of our bodies that will happen in the twinkling of an eye.  But the rapture will include enough time for a loud command, the voice of the archangel, the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ to rise first.  And then we will be transformed.  Maybe this is when we believers will have a chance to decide between going with the Lord or staying with our life on earth.  I am throwing this possibility out there in case it's what happens.  If so, commit now to running to meet the Lord when you hear that trumpet sound.
            Let me ask you this ... If the Lord came back today, would you be able to stand confidently before Him?]  



            I think the whole point of all this is that the rapture will differentiate between the true believers who are living out their faith in anticipation of Jesus returning and those who only think they are believers, who are impersonating believers, or who know the Truth but aren’t living it.



            I think the Philadelphia church of Rev 3:7-13 represents true, faithful, active believers.  And they are spared from the testing that comes on the whole earth (the tribulation) because they have endured patiently and kept God’s commands to the end.  They didn’t compromise God’s Word or run off after other gods or get distracted.  They were faithful.  And these true believers are spared. 


            They are the bridesmaids who were prepared and who had the extra oil for their lamps when the bridegroom (Jesus) finally came for the wedding supper (Matthew 25). 


            But the unprepared bridesmaids - those who looked like real bridesmaids (real Christians) but who really were not or who knew the Truth but weren’t living it - were left behind.  They ran off to find oil (symbolizing real faith?  Truth?), but the door closed before they could do so.  They were not prepared.  They were not faithful, active, genuine Christians, even if they thought they were or tried to look like they were.


            I do not think genuine believers who are living the Truth and who are ready for the Lord to return and who are willing to leave this life for their True Home have to be afraid of anything.  They are living like they should be, knowing that He can come back at any time.  And they want it to happen, so they will not be confused or taken by surprise when He does come back.  They are living in a state of readiness. 


            But those who are only posing as Christians or who think they are really Christian but aren’t or who believe the Truth but don’t live like it … they are the ones who have to be worried.  They are the ones being warned in these passages.      



The Last Church?

            Another thing that makes me think the rapture will be soon, that the "end of life as we know it" isn't too far off, is the order of the churches in Revelation 2-3.  It is commonly said by Bible scholars that there are multiple meaning for these churches.  One is that they describe real churches in Paul's time.  Two is that they describe the different kinds of churches that will be around at all times throughout history.  And three is that they describe a general chronological order of the overall condition of churches up until the end.

            Assuming this is true, let's look at the last two churches listed.  As I said, Philadelphia represents the true believers.  But it might also represent the "golden age" of evangelism.  Before the Reformation, church was just an institution, a lifeless system (the dead Sardis church of Rev 3).  And then the Reformation happened, followed throughout the next hundreds of years with various revivals throughout the world.  This is the Philadelphia age, when the true, Spirit-filled believers are preaching the Truth of the Gospel and when people are accepting the Gospel. 

            But after the Philadelphia age comes the Laodicea age, when the church is wealthy but lukewarm, when they have lots of money and members but they have lost their passion for Christ, for Truth.  And they don't even want it or need it, having traded in Gospel Truth for their own ideas.  Their wealth and influence and half-hearted preaching make them appear to be godly, but in reality they are "wretched, pitiful, blind and naked" (Rev 3:17).  They do not have the Holy Spirit.  But they don't even realize it because they are so prosperous that they think they're doing just fine.


            Anyone who is true to the Gospel knows that this is the age we are in now.  Churches, in general, have lost the Truth.  They are believing whatever they want to believe and telling people whatever they want to hear.  And most of it might even sound good - "God loves you ... He's always there for you ... We are all His children ..." - but it's lukewarm, half-hearted, and only part of the message.  There is no focus on sin, on our need for a Savior, on the consequences of rebellion, on the need to pursue righteousness, on the need to stand by the Truth of the Gospel, on hell, etc.


            And ... these lukewarm churches are growing rich, with many members (because everyone likes to be told only the good, warm, fuzzy, comforting things).  Think of the prosperity teachers who tell people that God wants to bless them with health and wealth in this lifetime.  Think of the televangelists who have lots of money and  big, beautiful churches, but they keep asking for more money to build themselves up, promising that God will bless people for donating.  Think of the Catholic church with all their ornate, fancy churches, where they make people feel like it's all about fulfilling religious obligations instead of about having a dynamic, Spirit-filled relationship with Jesus.


            This is so the age of the Laodicea church.


            And if this is true, then we are at the threshold of the end times, of Jesus returning.  Because that is the last church in the list before the next stuff happens in Revelation


            Notice what Jesus says to the Laodicea church: "Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock."  (Rev 3:20).  To the Philadelphia church, He said, "I am coming soon."  (Rev 3:11)  But to this last church, He says, "Here I am!"  At the door. 


            And I wonder if there's a double meaning for that.  One is that He is at the door of all of our hearts, knocking, waiting for us to open the door to Him, to let Him into our hearts as our Lord and Savior.  And two is that He is at the door of time, ready to open the door and usher us into the next phase of time, the tribulation, the end times. 


            To the previous churches, He said things like "I will come to you soon ... I will come like a thief in the night ... I am coming soon!"  But to this last church - this last church age, the wealthy but compromising, lifeless, lukewarm church - He says, "Here I am!"


            And maybe we should take this seriously.  For this may indeed be an indication that we are at the threshold of the end times.

                  


He who has an ear, let him hear!




The Visible Coming of Jesus

            This happens at the 6th seal, after the signs in the sun and moon and stars.  It’s when Jesus comes back to get the tribulation believers and to begin pouring out His wrath on the staunch unbelievers.  Any time you read about Jesus returning with angels and power and great glory, it’s this visible coming, not the rapture.  (FYI – Jesus also comes back again visibly at the end of the trib for the battle of Armageddon.  So sometimes the Bible refers to this coming, too.  The point, though, is that neither of these visible comings refers to the rapture.)

 

            Matthew 24:29-31 (also seen in Revelation 6:12-14, 7:9-14):  The sixth seal gathering of the great multitude.  We already talked a lot about this, so I will just quote this part:  “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn.  They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.  And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”

            If you compare this event with 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 (the rapture) you can see how different they are.

            1 Thessalonians says:  “According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till 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.”

            In the visible coming, Jesus comes with the angels.  In fact, He sends the angels out with a loud trumpet call.  But in the rapture, Jesus is sent with no angels, but with a loud command and the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God.  In the first one, Jesus is the one doing the sending with the trumpet call; in the other, Jesus is being sent with the trumpet call of God.

            Why should this matter?

            For one, it shows these are two different events.  And for two, what did Jesus says about “that day and hour” (about the rapture) in Matthew 24:36?  That no one knows when it will be, not even Him, but only the Father knows when that day is.  This is why God does the sending at the rapture, in the 1 Thessalonians passage.  God alone knows when He’s going to sound the trumpet and send Jesus to rapture the church. 

            But at the visible coming, Jesus sends the angels with a trumpet call because He knows when the visible coming will happen.  In fact, everyone knows when it will happen because of the timing of the detailed events of the tribulation. 

            This is why the believers of that trib are told in Luke 21:28 that when they see all these things begin to take place, they are to “stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  They will see what’s happening and be able to know that Jesus is coming back for them soon.  (Unlike the raptured believers who are told there will be no warning and no signs and no knowing when it will happen, which is why they must always be alert and ready.)  



            [Another interesting point:  Daniel 12:1 refers to the end times.  “At that time Michael [the archangel], the great prince who protects your people, will arise.  There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then.”

            I believe the “time of distress” is the tribulation.  And right before that, Michael arises (some translations say that he “stands up”).  There is debate about what this means, but I think it means that at the rapture (just before it) Michael is called up to heaven, that he rises away from protecting Israel to stand before God in the throne room.  And his absence opens the door for evil to take over, leading to the time of great distress. 

            Now this is what I want to point out… When Jesus is sent with the trumpet call of God to gather people in the rapture according to 1 Thess 4:15-17, what else accompanies the trumpet call? 

            The voice of the archangel.  That is Michael.  This implies that Michael is in heaven with God at this time, not protecting Israel as he normally would be doing.  This fits neatly with the idea that right before the great distress, Michael is called to heaven, where he then sends Jesus off with a loud command and God’s trumpet call to gather the people in the rapture. 

            If this is so, then Daniel 12:1 is another Old Testament reference to the rapture, to God removing His “people” from the earth before the great distress, specifically the archangel Michael in this verse but then the Holy Spirit and the church at the rapture.  And then comes the time of the great distress, the tribulation.]                 

           


            Some people want to say that the great multitude taken out at this time is the raptured church, that the rapture doesn’t happen until the 6th seal when Jesus comes back again visibly.

            However, that great multitude of Revelation 7 can’t be the same group as the raptured believers.  The church was told they would be given crowns and taken to the Father’s house.  But the multitude doesn’t have crowns and were not taken to the Father’s house.  They have palm branches and were taken to the throne room of God in the temple (Rev 7:9-15). 

            If you think the rapture doesn’t happen till this great multitude is taken out, then what happened to Jesus’ promise to take us to the Father’s House?  Who was Jesus talking to then when He said He’d take us to the Father’s house, the New Jerusalem?  And where are the crowns?  And who are the elders with the crowns? 

            Also in the 1 Thess 4:16-17 passage, it says that the dead in Christ rise first.  And most likely, the dead believers of all time would be a huge group.  But there is no mention of the dead of all time in Rev 7.  The great multitude is simply called “those taken out of the great tribulation.”  And that’s who they are.  Not “those taken out of the tribulation and the dead believers of all time.”  The rapture does not happen when the great multitude is taken out. 

            Nor does the rapture happen at the end of the trib like some believe.  1 Thess 4:16-17 and John 14:2-3 (rapture passages) talk about Jesus coming back to take us with Him and about meeting Him in the air.  But at the end of the trib, there will be no “being taken out of the earth and going with Him in the air anywhere” ... because at the end of the trib, He comes back to stay on earth for 1000 years.  Why be taken up to meet Him in the sky only to land back on earth moments later?  And once again, that would mean no “Father’s House.”
 
 

 

A few other “visible coming” passages:
 

            Once again, Revelation 6:12-17 is the 6th seal, when Jesus returns to gather the great multitude, seen in heaven in Revelation 7:9.  Matthew 24:29-31 is also a reference to the 6th seal and the gathering of the great multitude.  (See also Mark 13:24-27 and Luke 21:25-28)

 

            2 Thessalonians 2 – I believe 2 Thessalonians is mostly about the final visible coming, whereas 1 Thessalonians covers the rapture a lot.  In 2 Thess 1:7, you see that Paul is referring to the coming of Jesus in blazing fire, with angels.  This is a visible coming of Jesus. 

            Also, both letters have different focuses which help us see which event they’re referring to.  In 1 Thess 4, Paul is addressing the concerns the believers have about those believers who have died.  He’s reminding them that they will live again … in fact, they will rise first to meet the Lord in the air before the living believers are taken up to meet Him.  This is the rapture.

            But in 2 Thess, Paul’s focus is on the ultimate justice that God will dish out (2 Thess 1:5).  He is encouraging the church regarding the persecution they’re going through, reminding them that Jesus will ultimately return to dish out justice.  His focus here is not the rapture or the rising of the dead Christians, but the ultimate justice of God. 

            And this will happen (in part) when Jesus visibly returns to take out “the great multitude” so that God can pour out His wrath of the unbelievers who are left and at the end of the tribulation at the battle of Armageddon when He comes to destroy the Antichrist, the false prophet, and those who followed them … and it will happen (in full) at the end of the 1000 years of Jesus’ earthly reign when He destroys Satan and death and evil for good. 

            This is Paul’s focus of 2 Thessalonians, which is why “the coming of the Lord” in this letter refers to Jesus’s visible comings, when He comes for justice.  Justice is not the point of the rapture, but it is the point of the visible comings of Jesus. 

            So when Paul says in 2 Thess 2 that the man of lawlessness (the Antichrist) will be revealed before the “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he is referring to the visible “end of trib” coming, at Armageddon. 

            And we can know this because 2 Thess 2:8 says that when Jesus comes, He will overthrow the lawless one (the Antichrist).  That event does not happen at the rapture, nor at the gathering of the great multitude.  It happens at the end of the trib, after the Antichrist has been revealed and done his damage.  So this “coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him” in 2 Thess 2:1 is not about the rapture, but about Armageddon. 

            This “gathering to Him” is not about the rapture or about being gathered to Him in the air.  It’s about being gathered to Him for Armageddon and to be with Him on the earth where He sets up His throne for His 1000-year reign.  (There are many prophecies that refer to Jesus gathering all of Israel to Him on earth, during those 1000 years).

 

            I do believe, though, that there is a reference to the rapture in 2 Thess.  And that is 2 Thess 2:6-8 which says that the man of lawlessness (Antichrist) will not be revealed until the one who is holding him back is taken out of the way.  I think this is saying that the Holy Spirit is keeping evil in check right now, but when the Holy Spirit is taken out (in the rapture, with the church) then the Antichrist will be free to come forward and reveal himself and do his damage. 

 

 
 

            There are other references to both the rapture and the visible second coming, but these are the most significant ones and the most confused ones.  But this is how I have come to understand it.  And the more I read the Word, the more convinced I am of a rapture and of our need to take the warnings seriously.  And the more I learn, the more in awe I am of how consistent it is.  How mysterious yet understandable.  How amazing and reliable and hope-filled.  And the more I fall in love with it.  There truly is no book like it!

           

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