Tag Archives: Rapture

Not Apostasy, But Rapture!

Paul’s second epistle to the Thessalonians was written as a response to a query that church had sent to the Apostle. The Thessalonians were troubled by a letter they had received, purportedly from Paul (but actually a forgery), alleging that they had entered into “the day of the LORD” (2Thess2:2). They were troubled by this since Paul had previously taught them that the rapture of the Church would happen before the outpouring of God’s wrath during the Tribulation period (1Thess4:13-5:9); if this allegation were true, and the day of the LORD had indeed begun, that meant the believers in Thessalonica had been left behind! It should be noted that the believers in Thessalonica were undergoing intense (albeit local) persecution (1Thess3:2-4), so that it was no doubt tempting for them to believe that the Tribulation had begun.

Paul’s reply was to immediately remind them of what he had previously taught them (2Thess2:5); namely, that the Antichrist cannot even be “revealed”, which begins the Tribulation (Dan9:27), until after an event he calls “the falling away” (2Thess2:3). The Greek noun translated “falling away” is apostasia, transliterated as ‘apostasy’ in some English versions. The correct translation of apostasia is ‘departure’; exactly what kind of departure is in view depends upon context, and can just as likely mean a physical departure as it does a departure from the faith (i.e., apostasy). It is interesting that all English translations before the KJV rendered apostasia in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 as “departure”, whereas the KJV and most subsequent translations render it “falling away” or something which similarly implies the ‘departure’ is religious in nature. There is nothing in the context of 2 Thessalonians 2, however, that demands (or even suggests) that the departure to which Paul refers be non-physical.

Furthermore, in the Greek text there is the definite article in conjunction with apostasia, so that the best translation is not “a falling away”, but “the departure”. The use of the definite article means that Paul is referring to a specific event that he expects is already known to the Thessalonians. Since Paul’s first epistle to them included the most detailed revelation of the rapture of the Church in the N.T., and in fact mentions the rapture in every chapter (1Thess1:9-10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-17; 5:1-11), while not one reference to a religious apostasy or departure from the faith occurs, context demands that the specific departure to which Paul refers is the rapture. The context of 2 Thessalonians 2 also supports this, since the rapture, referred to as “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him”, introduces the chapter (2Thess2:1). Thus, the evidence is overwhelming that the departure Paul holds out as necessarily taking place before “the day of the LORD” and the revealing of the Antichrist is the rapture of the Church. Thus, 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is the most explicit teaching of the Pre-Trib rapture in the Bible.


Signs of the Second Coming

“And what I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch.” (Mark 13:32-37)

The Lord Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees for failing to recognize the signs of His First Coming (Matthew 16:1-3). Obvious signs they should have recognized included: 1) the virgin birth in Bethlehem (Isaiah 7:14; Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:1-12; Luke 1:26-35; 2:1-14), 2) prophesied Messianic miracles (Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:16-21), and 3) Daniel’s prophecy of the 69 Weeks which gave the very day Messiah would present himself to Israel (Daniel 9:25; Luke 19:41-44).

During His ministry at His First Coming, Jesus taught there would also be signs that precede His Second Coming (Matthew 24:3ff; Luke 21:25-28). For these signs (Mark 13:4), Jesus commanded us all to “Watch” (Mark 13:32-37).

A new study titled Signs of the Second Coming has been added in the Biblical Studies area.


A Picture of Imminence

“Be patient, therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord . . . for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh . . . behold [He] standeth before the door. (James 5:7-9).

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines imminent as “ready to take place; especially [as] hanging threateningly over one’s head”.  An imminent event is one that could occur at any moment; it is not, however, an event that is necessarily near, nor one that must occur soon.  In the New Testament, the coming of the Lord is an event that is portrayed as being imminent.  Such a portrayal has led to the recognition that the Rapture of the Church, in which the Lord comes in the clouds to gather believers to Himself and return to heaven (John 14:2-3; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17), is to be distinguished from the 2nd Coming and must take place before the start of the Tribulation period (i.e., Daniel’s 70th Week, the seven-year period that immediately precedes the 2nd Coming).  The coming of the Lord to rapture the Church is an imminent event; the coming of the Lord to establish His millennial kingdom on earth is not.

Because the New Testament teaches that the coming of the Lord is imminent, the rapture must take place before the Tribulation begins.  The New Testament teaches that the day of the Lord’s coming cannot be predicted (Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32) and may happen at any moment (Philippians 4:5; James 5:7-9); for this reason believers are exhorted to be ready and watching for it at all times (Matthew 24:44; Mark 13:33; Luke 12:40; 21:36; 1 Thessalonians 5:6; 1 Peter 4:7; Revelation 22:20).  This is the precious doctrine of the imminent return of Christ.  Imminency does not mean that the return of the Lord will occur soon, but that it can occur at any time.  Even the Apostle Paul in the first century, when teaching on the rapture, always counted himself as one who would be included in it—he taught (and believed) it could occur during his own lifetime (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:17).

For imminency to be true, there can be no event prophesied in Scripture that must occur before the coming of the Lord.  For this reason, when the New Testament speaks of the imminent coming of the Lord, it cannot have the 2nd Coming of Christ (which happens at the end of the 7-year Tribulation period) in mind.  We are at least seven years away from the 2nd Coming (Daniel 9:27), so there is no sense in which it can be imminent.  Thus, when the New Testament speaks of the imminent coming of the Lord, it must refer to the Lord’s coming to rapture the Church (John 14:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17); but the rapture is only imminent if it is to take place before the Tribulation begins.

The picture of the Lord’s coming used by James is that of the Lord standing at the door (James 5:9).  Such a word picture very effectively communicates an important aspect of the rapture; namely, that the event is imminent in the sense that no preceding event has to happen before the rapture can occur.  If I were standing at your door, I could knock on it at any time.  The fact that I am at your doorstep does not mean I will immediately knock on your door, or that I will knock on your door in the next seven seconds, or seven minutes, or seven hours, or seven years, or even during your lifetime, but I could and I might; there is nothing else that has to happen before the conditions are in place for me to knock on your door.  If you know I am on your doorstep, you must live in constant expectation that I might knock on your door at any moment.  Contrast this with your expectation if you (who live in America) knew/believed that I was presently on vacation in Australia.  There is no way I can immediately knock on your door, nor can I do so in the next seven seconds, or seven minutes, or seven hours.  A non-trivial series of events would have to happen first, which takes a finite amount of time, before I can be standing on your doorstep with the possibility of knocking.  This is how believers should understand the coming of the Lord to rapture the Church.  It is an event that is imminent, but not necessarily near.

Many Christians today believe the return of the Lord is drawing near.  Of course, there have been many times in the past when Christians believed the coming of the Lord (i.e., the 2nd Coming) was near, and they were wrong.  As we look back on those times, we realize that it was not correct to say that the Lord’s 2nd Coming was near, since the geopolitical conditions necessary to initiate the Tribulation were not in place.  Nevertheless, the coming of the Lord in the event of the rapture could have taken place at any of those times, since the pre-tribulational view of the rapture recognizes there to be an undefined period of time between the rapture and the start of the seven-year Tribulation period (during which time God could have rapidly moved things into place).

What we observe today is God moving things into place in a more gradual way.  As we see the geopolitical landscape developing precisely as the Bible speaks of the time of the Tribulation period, we have objective reasons to believe that the return of the Lord may indeed be drawing near.  But Daniel’s 70th Week has not yet begun (Daniel 9:27; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3), so the 2nd Coming of Christ cannot take place for at least seven years.  That being said, the conditions appear ripe for the Tribulation countdown to begin.  Knowing that the rapture of the Church will take place before the Tribulation begins, we also realize that the time of the rapture may be very near.  Regardless, the rapture of the Church has always been imminent!


The Rapture — A Necessary Inference

With the rise of Dispensationalism in the 19th century, the use of a literal (i.e., grammatical-historical) hermeneutic to interpret Scripture began to be employed in an increasingly consistent manner in all areas of Biblical revelation.  This new (or renewed) consistency in the use of a literal hermeneutic naturally led to new insights in many areas of theology.  As an example, a literal hermeneutic applied to prophetic passages in the New Testament led students of the Bible to conclude that the Rapture of the Church was a phase of the return of Christ that had to be distinguished from the 2nd Coming.  That is, the yet future return of Christ will actually be comprised of two distinct events separated in time:  1) the Rapture of the Church, in which Christ comes in the air to receive His Bride and take her back to heaven with Him (e.g., John 14:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), and 2) the 2nd Coming, in which Christ comes from heaven with all His saints to establish His kingdom on this present earth and personally reign over it for a thousand years (e.g., Matthew 24:30; Revelation 19:11-16; 20:4-6).

From its inception the idea that the future return of Christ would be comprised of two phases received two principal criticisms.  First, that there was no place in the New Testament that explicitly taught that there remained two future “comings” of Christ, separated in time; thus, such an understanding was based on inference alone.  Second, that this understanding of the return of Christ was a “new” doctrine; since it had never before been taught or believed by Christians of previous generations (neither the Reformers, nor the Church Fathers before them), it was very unlikely to be true.  These two criticisms will each be briefly addressed.

Regarding the first criticism, it is obvious that nowhere in the New Testament is it explicitly asserted that there remain two future “comings” of Christ.  The understanding that there are to be two comings, a Rapture event that is distinct and separated in time from the 2nd Coming proper, is indeed an inference.  Nevertheless, it is a necessary inference!  A rapture event distinct from the 2nd Coming is a necessary inference from all the New Testament passages regarding the return of Christ, some of which reveal He will come for His saints in the air and return with them to heaven (Rapture), others that He will come with His saints from heaven to the earth (2nd Coming).  There must be two phases to this return, separated in time, since all that is said concerning it cannot be fulfilled in a single event.  This is entirely analogous to the Old Testament passages regarding the Coming of Christ.  Nowhere in the Old Testament does it say that there would be two Comings of Christ (Messiah).  However, revelation is given of Messiah suffering and dying for the nation (e.g., Psalm 22; Isaiah 53), along with revelation of Messiah setting up His kingdom on earth and reigning over it forever (e.g., Psalm 2; Daniel 2:44; Zechariah 14:9).  These two bodies of revelation could not be fulfilled in a single “Coming”, so from the Old Testament perspective it was a necessary inference that Messiah would come twice [1] (i.e., the 1st Coming and the 2nd Coming proper; since the Rapture exclusively pertains to the Church, it was a mystery unrevealed in the Old Testament).

Regarding the second criticism, it is conceded that the notion of a Rapture that is distinct and separated in time from the 2nd Coming was a new understanding that emerged in the 19th century as a result of Dispensational Theology’s emphasis on the use of a literal hermeneutic in prophetic passages of the Bible.  The earlier/classical Dispensationalists, including Darby, Scofield, and Walvoord, were all honest in admitting that Dispensationalism’s doctrine of the Rapture was a new understanding of Scripture not held by the Reformers or Church Fathers [2].  While many today are expending great energy in an attempt to find quotations from early Christian writers that indicate they believed in a Rapture that was distinct from the 2nd Coming, there is no necessity to do so.  Even if a few such genuine quotations are found [3], it will only serve to highlight the truth that Dispensationalism’s doctrine of the Rapture was an extreme, minority view held by virtually no one prior to the modern era.  But this in no way negates the validity of the doctrine.  Remember, the vast majority of Jewish believers failed to properly infer that the Old Testament taught Messiah must come twice, including the disciples of the Lord Himself, for which He rebuked them rather harshly (cf. Luke 24:25-27)!

In summary, Dispensationalism’s doctrine of the Rapture as distinct and separated in time from the 2nd Coming is a necessary inference from Scripture.  The fact that it is an inference in no way relegates it to being a second-class doctrine, nor does it mean that we cannot have full assurance of its certainty.  Furthermore, the fact that this particular doctrinal truth has only been recognized rather late in this present age is not a valid argument against its veracity.  God’s truth has been available on the pages of Scripture from the very moment it was recorded, but as Dr. Hannah notes “it is apparent that doctrinal development has taken place over the centuries and will continue to do so” [4].  Brethren, let’s boldly proclaim the doctrine of the imminent return of our Lord Jesus Christ (i.e., the Rapture) as the blessed hope of the Church (Titus 2:13)!

Endnotes:

[1] Some ancient Jewish rabbis, struggling to reconcile these two bodies of revelation regarding Messiah, postulated that there would be two Messiahs, a Messiah “ben Joseph” who would come to die for the nation, and a Messiah “ben David” who would come to reign over the nation.  Obviously this was not correct, but it nevertheless demonstrates their recognition that not all the revelation given in the Old Testament regarding the Coming of Messiah could be fulfilled in a single event.

[2] Although it is generally conceded by virtually all Church historians that the Church was predominantly Premillennial in eschatology for its first three centuries (until Augustine).

[3] Most such quotations that are offered are of a rather vague character, open to various interpretations.

[4] John Hannah, Our Legacy:  The History of Christian Doctrine (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2001), 27.


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