20 Studies in Bible Prophecy
Study 3 - The Rapture: The Next Event
In The Prophetic Programme
The next great event set before the Christian is the translation or Rapture of the Church. This event is the crowning and closing episode of this Christian dispensation, and entails what the Lord's return will mean for the Christian, dead or alive. It will be the next issue in the prophetic programme, but it will also be the first movement in the great drama of the end. As Dr. Skevington Wood puts it, "Christ's coming for His own touches off the chain reaction of startling consequences connected with the final age. An entire sequence of events awaits the signal of the Lord's return to transfer the saints to be with Him forever". In this age of grace, which began at Pentecost, and will terminate at the Rapture, God has been calling out a people from among the nations. That company, termed in the Scriptures as the Church, the Body of Christ, (1 Cor. 12:13-17; Eph. 1:22, 23; 5-23, 30, 32; Col. 1:18), will be the caught up company when Jesus descends from heaven and shouts the quickening word. It is very evident that the Church has not only a heavenly origin, but a heavenly destiny, and, wrote Robert Middleton in (THE COMING GREAT WORLD CHANGES), "The only way in which the Church is connected with prophecy is in connection with her translation to glory." The Rapture is decidedly the Christian hope.
The Rapture Explained
This word "Rapture" is not found in the Bible. It comes from the Latin version of Scriptures, where "rapere" indicates the "catching up" or the "snatching away" of the believer as indicated in (1 Thess. 4:17). The Greek word "Harpazo" suggests "to snatch away" with violence or haste, and is always used in the New Testament of a removing from one place to another, (Matt. 13:19; Acts 8:39; 2 Cor. 12:2-4).
The concept of translation is not an isolated fact in the Bible. Enoch, the seventh from Adam, did not die (Gen. 5:24), he was taken up alive to be with God. Some would argue that the language used here in the Pentateuch is but an Old Testament way of saying that Enoch died. But when we look at (Hebrews 11:5) the matter is taken beyond dispute, and reads, "... Enoch was translated that he should not see death ...' And of course it was the same for Elijah (2 Kings 2:1,3, 9-12).
The same was true of Jesus Christ on the occasion of His ascension, and what happened to Enoch, Elijah and Jesus Christ, will happen to all believers alive when Jesus returns, together with the resurrected dead in Christ. In His rapture to heaven Jesus Christ was the first-fruits. The Church's rapture will be the harvest, (1 Cor. 15:23).
According to the teaching of the New Testament, this will be an act of divine grace (1 Peter 1:13), an act of divine mercy (Jude 21) and one of divine omnipotence (Phil. 3:21). This will be the greatest exodus the world has ever known. As the Irishman said, when the effects of the Rapture were explained to him, "Well, that will thin the numbers out a good deal." Hall Lindsay speaks of the ultimate trip.
The Rapture Versus The Revelation
It is important to distinguish between the Rapture, the coming of Christ for His Church, and the Revelation, the arrival of Christ on the earth with His Church and the armies of heaven. By a consensus of the best theological opinion the return of Christ will be in two stages. The Rapture will be aerial, the Revelation will be earthly. The truth of the Rapture is one of hope for a waiting Church, whilst the message of the Revelation is the only hope for the nation of Israel. To ignore this distinction is to confuse the teaching of the epistles. The great expositor, Dean Alford wrote, "The coming of Christ to take His Church to Himself in the clouds is not the same event as His Coming to judge the world". Or as the Rev. lan MacPherson puts it in (NEWS OF THE WORLD TO COME), "To try to make a composite photograph of these two portraits and force them to apply to a single historic occurrence is logically impossible. In the former Christ comes to make love; in the latter, to make war. The first analogy is marital, the second military. The one is nuptial; the other, martial." These are two differing events and programmes, and must not be unified into one event.
With these two stages of the coming Advent in mind, it seems to be borne out in Scripture that we should differentiate between the two Biblical expressions, the "day of Christ" and the "Day of the Lord". One can safely quote the late Dr. Scroggie: "It would appear that this event, which is frequently referred to as the 'day of Christ' must be distinguished from 'the day of the Lord' of (1 Thess. 5:2; and 2 Thess. 2:2) R.V. The latter expression comes from the Old Testament and relates to Christ's universal kingdom; but the former expression is found in the New Testament only, and relates to His Advent for the Church."
When we turn to the closing book of the Bible, it seems quite evident that the most simple and practical outline of that book is that contained in (Ch. 1:19), when the apostle is directed to "write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter." The things spoken of as having already been seen denote the vision of chapter one, the prime theme of the book, Jesus Christ as Sovereign. The second division, "the things which are", very definitely include chapters two and three, where we have the letters to the seven churches. These were not only seven historical churches, but, to quote Dr. Tatford, they "... furnish sub-apostolic days, to the close of the present era." The third division, "the things which shall be hereafter," includes the bulk of the book which was to be prophetic.
The Rapture Described
The most graphic passage relative to the Rapture is found in (1 Thess. 4:13-18). According to this Pauline document the event will be both dramatic and demonstrative. He states that the Lord Himself "shall descend" literally "step down" from heaven, with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God. Bible scholars differ in their views regarding these "sounds of descension" as Dr. Herbert Lockyer calls them. Some hold the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God to be but explanations of the "shout". Hendriksen thinks that there are two different sounds, the "shout" being the "voice of the Lord", with the additional blast of the archangel sounding the trumpet of God. Others contend that here we have mere poetic language used to describe the vivid nature of Christ's sudden appearance in the skies. I believe that here we have the divine summons, the signal from God, which shall be audible and effective to all those tuned in to heaven by faith.
As to the demonstration of the event, we find that three miracles will take place in the briefest moment of time imaginable. First, the resurrection of the believing dead. The very problem that haunted the Thessalonians, Paul now clarifies, the deceased believers will rise first. In other words Paul is saying to the Thessalonians, and us, "Your departed fellow-Christians will be the first to answer the signal of the returning Christ." Secondly, the refashioning of the living believers. Paul says, (1 Cor. 15:52) ". . . we shall be changed," mortality will put on immortality, and these bodies, subject to sin, sickness and decay, will be transformed and made like unto Christ's glorious body (Phil. 3:20, 21). Thirdly, the removal of resurrected dead and transformed living, to meet their descending Lord in the air, in an indivisible unit of time (1 Cor. 15:52). The miracle of resurrection and transformation, will be followed by the miracle of translation. "So shall we ever be with the Lord." Who can tell the joy and blessedness included in these words ? They bespeak the climax of blessedness.
The Rapture: The Time Of It Humanly Unpredictable
Though we cannot tell the exact date of Christ's coming for His Church, yet we are not left in any doubt as to the indications that would herald its approach. Signs in the national and international realms, in the moral, ecclesiastical, and political spheres, all proclaiming the close proximity of the event. As Walter Scott observed, "The Church should not look for signs, yet signs should be looked at."
So if we are not to be surprised at His coming, it is essential that we observe the warning signals with a view to discerning their prophetic significance.
In conclusion, it is well to note that the Rapture is, to quote Dr. Dwight Pentecost, "a signless and unannounced event." The signs we are beholding, are those which indicate events to take place following the removal of the Church, the period that will intercalate between the coming of Christ for His saints and His coming with His saints. If coming events are casting their shadows before, with such unmistakable clarity, how near could the Rapture be?
In the light of this fact, we should re-adjust our lives, realise our opportunities, and reassure our faith in the promises of the Lord. Extensive use is made of the truth of the Advent as a basis for practical Christian living. This hope will show itself in faith, and in faithfulness, in love and in loveliness; in hope and in holiness.
If we are serious in our pursuit of this great truth, we will be serious in our pursuit of true holiness.