Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Will there be a pre-tribulation rapture of God's saints?

As the Lord has revealed more to me about what is happening in the world today, I felt that He would begin to open up how these events are related to the Book of Revelation. I began to pray about this and study Revelation. If you’ve ever studied Revelation, you know that it is very difficult to understand. The imagery and symbolism seem overwhelming. Over a couple of days I began to become frustrated with my inability to glean any additional knowledge and decided to take a break from these studies for awhile. The next day a friend sent me a link to a Christian website focused on prophesy. I noticed a small ad for a book by Steve Wohlberg at the bottom of the website entitled ‘End Time Delusions’. Since it contained a study of Revelation and this was something that I had been praying about, I was immediately curious. After reading a few pages online, I decided to purchase the book. After completing the book, I know the Lord guided me to it. It contains a thorough study of end time prophesy based solely on scripture and disagrees with many current end time Christian beliefs. After further study of scripture on my own, I agree with many of Steve’s conclusions. I now believe that we are nearing the end of the book of Revelation, not the beginning. The following articles contain excerpts from his book. We will first look at the current Christian belief of a pre-tribulation rapture of God’s saints.

(The following excerpts are taken from ‘End Time Delusions’ by Steve Wohlberg)

The following five teachings have become immensely popular in modern day Christianity (especially with the ‘Left Behind’ book series):

1. All true Christians will soon vanish in the rapture.
2. Seven years of apocalyptic terror will overtake those left behind.
3. One evil man, the antichrist, will take over the world.
4. The antichrist will enter a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, claiming to be God.
5. The nations of earth will attack Israel at Armageddon.

The question is.....are these teachings accurate according to Scripture? We will review Scripture relating to question 1 in this discussion.

Although ‘rapture’ isn’t a biblical word, is the biblical doctrine there? The Bible certainly does teach us that Jesus Christ will return for His people. Our Lord Himself said, “I will come again and receive you to Myself” (John 14:3). The questions we must ask ourselves:

1. Will Jesus come invisibly?
2. Will the Church disappear?
3. Does the Bible really teach vanishing Christians?

The most quoted passage used to support the rapture concept is 1 Thessalonians 4:17. In this verse Paul wrote that true believers will someday be ‘caught up….in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Does “caught up” mean disappear? Is Paul describing a silent return of Jesus Christ before an apocalyptic seven-year tribulation? We don’t need to guess, the answer is in the context. Here is what Paul actually wrote:

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

Rapture teachers interpret this event as silent and secret, yet doesn’t it seem rather loud and visible? There is a shout, a voice and a trumpet. Look carefully, Jesus Christ comes down from Heaven shouting and blowing a trumpet. The dead rise. Then true believers are ‘caught up’. Do you see anything here about vanishing Christians prior to the tribulation? Rapture promoters interpret ‘caught up’ to mean disappear because this view fits their prophetic system, yet it must be admitted that the text doesn’t say this.

Two thousand years ago, at the end of His earthly life, Jesus Christ was also ‘taken up,’ (Acts 1:9). This doesn’t mean that He disappeared, leaving His clothes on earth. Instead, in full view of His wondering disciples, ‘while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight’ (Acts 1:9). This event was highly visible. Luke said Jesus Christ was ‘taken up,’ and then clouds are mentioned, just like Paul wrote about believers being ‘caught up…in the clouds’.

Notice carefully the full context of Acts 1:9:

Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you have seen Him go into heaven (Acts 1:9-11, emphasis added).

Here we have holy angels – in the form of men in white robes – explaining the simple truth about Jesus Christ’s return. They told the disciples that just as Jesus was literally and visibly ‘taken up’ into the clouds, even so would He ‘come in like manner as [they had seen] Him go into heaven.’ They taught no secret coming or vanishing Christians. Everything will be highly visible, just as the ascension of Jesus Christ.

Let’s return to 1 Thessalonians and take a look at the thief-in-the-night idea:

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. But concerning the times and seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape (1 Thessalonians 4:16-5:3).

Here Paul compares the coming of Jesus Christ to the arrival of a midnight thief. Rapture promoters interpret this to mean Jesus will come like a silent thief to snatch believers off this earth before seven years of chaos – then driverless cars will collide, pilotless planes will crash and babies will be found missing from their cribs. Yet is this really what Paul is saying?

First of all, the day when Jesus comes as a thief is clearly the very same day in which He descends with a shout and a trumpet blast. Secondly, it comes as a ‘thief in the night’ only upon the unprepared. When it hits, ‘sudden destruction comes upon them [the lost], as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape.’

Do you see what Paul is really saying? Jesus’ coming as a ‘thief in the night’ does not mean He will come quietly and invisibly to steal believers out of this world, as is taught in rapture movies and best-selling books. Rather, it means He will come unexpectedly, bringing ‘sudden destruction’ upon the unsaved. Thus it is not a secret coming, but only a sudden one. Will the unprepared get a ‘second chance’ to be saved during a subsequent seven year tribulation? Paul answered this question when he wrote, “They shall not escape” (verse 3).

Here’s a simple summary of what 1 Thessalonians 4:16-5:3 really says:

1. Jesus Christ will literally descend from Heaven with a shout and a trumpet blast.
2. The dead in Christ will rise first and true believers will be ‘caught up’, just like Jesus Christ Himself was visibly ‘taken up’ into the sky almost 2,000 years ago.
3. This cataclysmic ‘day of the Lord’ will burst upon the unprepared like the unexpected arrival of a midnight thief.
4. ‘Sudden destruction’ will overwhelm the lost, ‘and they shall not escape’.

When taken literally, these words describe the visible second coming of Jesus Christ, not a secret rapture.

Jesus Christ predicted, ‘Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming’ (Mathew 24:40-42). This is probably the second most quoted Scripture in the Bible used to support the doctrine of an invisible return of Jesus Christ and vanishing Christians. Supposedly, ‘one will be taken and the other left’ means believers will disappear in an unperceived flash, while the rest of the world suddenly wakes up in mystified ignorance wondering, Which way did they go?

Again, the key is in the context. Mathew 24 begins with our Savior quietly sitting upon the Mount of Olives. His “disciples came to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?’” (Mathew 24:3). Obviously, the disciples were thinking about Jesus’ return and the end of the world. In response to His disciples’ please-clarify-the-end inquiry, Christ’s very first words were, “Take heed that no one deceives you” (Mathew 24:4). We should pay close attention to the forcefulness of this response! Why? Because it clearly implies that when it comes to this exact topic of His “coming”, Jesus knew there was going to be a great deal of deception whirling around. What is even more dramatic is that Christ raised His “Don’t be Deceived” warning four times in this single sermon (see Mathew 24:4-5, 11, 24). One gets the idea that end time deceptions will someday sweep over planet earth like a massive tidal wave. The only way to avoid being swept away is to pay close attention to the exact words of Jesus Christ.
Our Lord continued, “For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Mathew 24:24). Here Jesus said satan’s delusions will eventually become so subtle and powerful that only “the elect” will come through unscathed. Who are the “elect”? Based on the context, they must be a group of people who know the Truth Teller and the Bible so well that even the devil can’t mislead them. Verse 31 tells us that “the elect” are people who are ready for the return of Jesus Christ.

Immediately after the warning about false prophets and deception, Jesus said, ”Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shines even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Mathew 24:26-27). Here Jesus draws a razor-sharp contrast between false views of His return and the truth.

Concerning false views, don’t miss that little word, “secret” in verse 26. Jesus plainly warned that some will mistakenly promote a “secret” coming. Based on the context, we discover that this will be one of those powerful delusions which only God’s faithful elect will avoid. Far from being a secret event, Jesus Himself compares His return to the brilliant flashing of lightning bolts hurtling across the sky.

Jesus finally answered His disciples exact question by fully unveiling what His return would be like:

And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (Mathew 24:30-31).

There’s no question about it, his “coming” will be unmistakably visible to “all the tribes of the earth”. This entire passage parallels Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. In both Mathew 24:30-31, and in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, we read about clouds, noise, a loud trumpet, a gathering together and true believers being transported into the sky.

Let’s look at one more passage describing an event predicted to occur “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52). This is probably the third most quoted pro-rapture verse used to support the idea of vanishing Christians prior to a nightmarish seven-year tribulation. Notice carefully what Paul really wrote:

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).

Is Paul saying believers will some day vanish while their loved ones blink? Not at all! He is simply saying that the dead will be raised and our sinful bodies will be changed “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” When will this moment take place? Paul’s answer is clear. It will occur “at the last trumpet,” when “the trumpet will sound,” that is, at the very end of the world. This is the very same “great sound of a trumpet” Jesus Christ said would be heard when He finally commissions His angels to gather his people at His second coming (Mathew 24:31).


We’ll continue this study concerning current Christian end time beliefs with upcoming discussions on the 7 year tribulation theory, the antichrist, the ‘beasts’ of Revelation and discussions on the nation of Israel.

No comments: