THE END TIMES AND THE RAPTURE
Make no mistake about it! We are living in the last of the last days. The end of the world as we know it is fast approaching. Notice, I said, the end of the world as we know it. First of all, we need to understand and acknowledge that no matter what happens, God is in control. He is not only the Creator of the earth and all that is on it, He is the Creator of the entire universe and all that is in it. He has a plan for everything that is happening and is going to happen. As someone once said, “I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I know who holds tomorrow.” There is no reason to fear what is called “the unknown,” for there is nothing unknown to Him. Has it ever occurred to you that nothing ever “occurs” to God? He knows everything from the beginning to the end. In fact, He is the beginning and the end. Revelation 22:13: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.”
Second, we need to understand that there will be no end for us. Things may change, our bodies may die, but our spirits are eternal. That is why it is so important for us to make a decision in this life as to where we will spend eternity. It is up to us to make one of two choices, and there are only two choices, regardless of what others may tell you. We can choose Jesus and live or we can choose to make no choice and perish. John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” My daughter-in-law once made herself a tee shirt that simply said, “I am a whosoever.” The message is clear, if we are believers, we are whosoevers. We can all make the choice to believe God and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. If we choose not to choose, we perish. That does not mean we cease to exist, Matthew 25:46a explains what happens to those who choose not to choose: “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment…” This is why it is so important to tell others about Jesus. If you saw someone’s house on fire and you knew they were inside and going to perish, no doubt you would make every effort to get them to safety. We need to develop that same attitude about our family and friends that are not saved.
As we talk about THE END OF THE WORLD, a better phrase would be “The End of The Age.” It is interesting that twice in the KJV version of the Bible we find the phrase “…world without end.” (Isaiah 45:17 & Ephesians 3:21). Scholars would be quick to point out that the word “world” does not occur in the Hebrew or the Greek in these verses. In both cases, the literal translations speak of “ages.” In Ephesians 3:21, “…world without end.” is the translation of the Greek word aion, meaning age or ages, repeated twice aion aion (Strong’s G165, G165) literally, ages of ages. This combination occurs 19 times in the New Testament and is translated in the other 18 times as “forever and ever.” (eg.Gal.1:5, Phil. 4:20, Rev. 1:18 &22:10). The idea that is expressed in this phrase is that we are living in eternity and things may change from age to age, but there will never be an end to the ages!
We are living now in what we could call “The Church Age,” what the Bible calls “…the day of salvation.” (II Corin. 6:2). Paul calls it “…the mystery which hath been hidden from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to the saints…” (Col. 1:26). “The Church Age” is located in the gap of time between the 69th and 70th weeks of Daniel 9:26-27. The 70th week of Daniel coincides with the great tribulation of Matthew 24:21 which will follow “The Church Age.”
Jesus demonstrated the reality of this mystery in the Synagogue at Nazareth when He read from the Prophet Isaiah and stopped reading in the middle of the sentence. Luke 4:17-20b: “And there was delivered unto Him the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And He closed the book…and sat down…” What Jesus read described His ministry and the ministry of the Church, but He stopped in the middle of Isaiah 61:2: “To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord (stopped here) and the day of vengeance of our God…”Again, “…the day of vengeance of our God…” which He did not read, corresponds with the great tribulation. The rest of the chapter, in my opinion, describes the millennial reign of Christ. I believe that “The Church Age” will end with the rapture of the Church, followed by the great tribulation and then the Millennium.
One of the main arguments against the idea of “rapture” is that the word rapture is not found in the Bible. The passage that most often is cited for reference to the rapture is I Thessalonians 4:17: “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 so shall we ever be with the Lord.” We find the words “caught up” here, but not the word “rapture”. It is true that the English word “rapture” is not found in any English versions of the Bible, but how about the Latin Bible?
Wikipedia – Rapture, says: “‘Rapture’ is an English noun derived from the Latin verb rapio, with a literal meaning of ‘I catch up’ or ‘I snatch’ (from the infinitive form of the verb rapere, ‘to catch up’.)” So, if “rapture” is derived from the Latin, is it possible that rapio or a form of that verb is found in the Latin Bible?
I Thessalonians 4:17 in St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate: “deinde nos qui vivimus qui relinquimur simul rapiemur cum illis in nubibus obviam Domino in aera et sic simper cum Domino erimus.” “The Latin rapiemur is Saint Jerome’s translation of the Greek…using a form of the Latin verb rapio, meaning ‘to catch up’ or ‘take away’” (Wikipedia-Rapture). So, to be entirely accurate, rapture is found in the Bible, it just happens to be in the Latin Vulgate!
AN OVERVIEW OF THE END TIMES
The study of the end times is called eschatology and there are various, often opposing views on a number of subjects. For example, in Revelation 20:1-7, the term “thousand years” appears six times, referring to a one thousand year period, which in eschatological terms has been called the Millennium. There are basically three interpretations of the Millennium, and I give them as simply as possible:
1. Premillennial: the belief that the second coming of Christ must take place before the millennium, and that Christ will reign on earth during this time. This is the position I take, because this seems to me to be what the scriptures plainly state.
2. Postmillennial: the belief that the Church will establish the Kingdom of God and reign on earth on behalf of Christ as His Body. This will be followed by the second coming of Christ.
3. Amillennial: the belief that there is no millennium or tribulation, but these are simply symbolic terms for the struggle between good (Christ’s rule) and evil.
When I was at seminary during the late 1970’s there was great debate over these three positions and the question would often be asked, “What position do you take?” I had a friend, Mike, who loved to throw a fourth position in the mix to aggravate the liberals. When asked, he would respond, “I’m a panmillennialist.” The follow-up question would invariably come, “What is that?” To which Mike would reply with something like, “Well, I don’t really know how it’s all going to work out, but I figure since God is in control, it’s all going to pan-out OK in the end.”
Now if the three positions on the Millennium are not confusing enough for you, I must tell you that Premillennialists hold at least four views of when the Rapture will take place. The following are from The Spirit Filled Life Bible, Jack W. Hayford, General Editor, Thomas Nelson, 1991:
1. PREMILLENNIAL PRETRIBULATIONAL VIEW: [All believers are “raptured” before the Great Tribulation. The Rapture and the Second coming are separate events. Tribulation and Millennium are literal 7-year and 1,000-year periods.]
2. PREMILLENNIAL POSTTRIBULATIONAL VIEW: [All believers are “raptured” at the end of the Great Tribulation. The rapture and the Second Coming are the same event. Tribulation and Millennium are literal 7-year and 1,000-year periods.]
3. PREMILLENNIAL MIDTRIBULATIONAL VIEW: [All believers are “raptured” after 42 months (1,260 days) of the 7-year Great Tribulation. The rapture and the Second Coming are separate events. Tribulation and Millennium are literal 7-year and 1,000-year periods.]
4. PREMILLENNIAL PRETRIBULATIONAL PARTIAL RAPTURE VIEW: [Only some believers will be “raptured” before the Great Tribulation. Those “unready” must be martyred to verify their faith. The rapture and the Second Coming are separate events. Tribulation and Millennium are literal 7-year and 1,000-year periods.] Which point of view is correct? Probably a combination of views; at any rate, since God is in control, it’s all going to pan-out OK in the end.
THE RAPTURE OF THE CHURCH
Where do we start in a discussion of rapture? I guess the first thing we need to do is define what rapture means from the context of I Thessalonians 4:17: “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 so shall we ever be with the Lord.” The first thing we note is that rapture deals with those who are alive, whereas resurrection deals with those who have died (see vs.16). Second, there is a catching away or a snatching away from the earth to another place. Third, that place is to be with the Lord.
It has been said that every major doctrine in the Bible has its beginning in Genesis. Can we find rapture in Genesis based on the above definition? I think we can. Genesis 5:24: “And Enoch walked with God, and he was not; for God took him.” Did God take him by death, or did something else happen to Enoch? We have to go to Hebrews 11:5 for that answer: “By faith, Enoch was translated that he should not see death, and was not found, because God had translated him; for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.” The Greek word translated as “translated” literally means “…to transfer to another place…” according to W. E. Vines An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.
There is a story about Enoch that goes something like this, “One day as Enoch and God were out walking and talking, time flew by and darkness began to fall. God turned to Enoch and said, ‘We are closer to My house than we are to yours, just come and go home with me.’” (source unknown). That fits our definition of rapture. Enoch was alive, God took him from this earth without death, and he went to be with the Lord.
What can we learn from this story? First, that rapture is a fact. At least one has already taken place. Second, the rapture of Enoch saved him from a judgment that was to come on the whole earth, i.e. the flood (Genesis 6-8). In that regard, I think we can say that Enoch is a type of those saints who will be raptured, as prophesied by I Thessalonians 4:17, before the Great Tribulation. I believe Paul confirmed this a little later in I Thessalonians 5:9 when he said: “For God hath not appointed us to wrath (the Great Tribulation) but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Enoch is not the only Old Testament saint to be raptured or taken alive into heaven. Elijah was the prophet’s name who was also taken into heaven alive. He had completed his task on the earth and God had instructed him to call Elisha to take his place. However, unlike Moses, who died when he had finished his task and was actually buried by the Lord Himself (see Deuteronomy 34:1-8), Elijah did not die, rather, he was “raptured.” II Kings 2:11: “And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and separated them, and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into Heaven.” This is the second rapture in the Bible.
Now, why did I mention Moses in the account of Elijah? It is significant that the two men who appeared with Jesus on the Mountain of Transfiguration were Moses and Elijah. The story of Jesus’ Transfiguration is found in Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-13, and Luke 9:28-36. As a preface to His Transfiguration, Jesus tells the disciples, Matthew 16:28: “Verily I say unto you, There are some standing here, who shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in His kingdom.” What did Jesus mean by that statement? All the disciples have died and Jesus still has not returned, so what was He talking about? I believe He was referring to His Transfiguration which would take place just a few days after He made this statement. His Transfiguration was a preview of the Second Coming, and those disciples who witnessed it saw a preview of Him coming in His kingdom. Moses and Elijah were representative of two groups of people who would take part in Jesus’ Second Coming. Moses represented those who had died in Christ, I Thessalonians 4:14: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also who sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.” Elijah represented those who were still alive and would be raptured to meet Christ in the air, I Thessalonians 4:17: “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; so shall we ever be with the Lord.” So, here we have a preview of a rapture that is still to come.
There is a third rapture that has already taken place, even though we rarely think of it as a rapture. However, it fits all the criteria for rapture except the person raptured has already been resurrected. I am talking about the ascension of Jesus into heaven after His resurrection. Acts 1:9-11: “And when He had spoken these things, while they beheld, 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, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.” The ascension of Jesus into heaven constitutes the third rapture that has already taken place. He was alive and He was taken up into heaven. Then the angel told the disciples that Jesus would come back “…in like manner…” This is a very interesting statement. We know (from I Thessalonians 4:14: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also who sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.”) that Jesus is bringing the saints with Him. Does “…in like manner…” mean that he took saints with Him at His ascension? And if so, who were these saints? We find these saints in Matthew 27:52-53: “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints that slept were raised, and came out of their graves after the resurrection, and went into the holy city and appeared unto many.” How do we know that these saints ascended into heaven with Jesus? The answer to that question lies in the third of the seven feasts of the Lord. It is the Feast of First Fruits; Leviticus 23:9-11: “And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye are come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then ye shall bring a sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest unto the priest, and he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you: on the next day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.”
Paul affirms that Jesus’ resurrection fulfilled this feast. I Corinthians 15:20: “But now is Christ risen from the dead and become the first fruits of them that slept.” Note however that it was a sheaf that was waved before the Lord, not a single grain of wheat. Jesus prophesied this sheaf when He spoke of His crucifixion in John 12:23-24: “And Jesus answered them, saying, the hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” Jesus was the single grain of wheat that fell into the ground at His crucifixion, but at His resurrection, a sheaf came forth (Jesus, plus the saints of Matthew 27:52-53 above) and it was waived before the Lord at His ascension. This is the third rapture that has already taken place.
The fourth rapture, which will be the next one, is yet to take place. It is the one described in I Thessalonians 4:13-18: “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them who are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also who sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them who are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall 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 so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
I believe that it will be a pretribulation rapture based on the rapture of Enoch before the flood and I Thessalonians 5:9: “For God hath not appointed us (the church) to wrath (the Great Tribulation) but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.” It fulfills Jesus’ promise of John 14:2b-3: “…I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”
Make no mistake about it; Jesus is coming again for us, the Church, His Bride. When will that be? No one knows but the Father, but we do know that it is closer than the day we believed.
WHAT ABOUT ISRAEL?
There are some in the Church who believe the Church has replaced Israel as God’s people. This is called “replacement theology.” Those who believe this way declare that God is through with Israel and that all of the prophecies concerning Israel are now being fulfilled through the church. One would think that the rebirth of the nation of Israel in one day, on May 14, 1948 at 4:30 in the afternoon, fulfilling Isaiah 66:8: “Who hath heard such a thing? Who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children,” would have dispelled this notion. God is not through with Israel! Just as the Church is the Bride of Christ, Israel is the Bride of God. Hosea 2:19: “And I will betroth thee unto me forever…” and Isaiah 54:5: “For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of Host is His name…”
Paul makes it clear that when God deals with man in the earth in these last days, He is dealing with three separate groups of people; The people of Israel, the Church, and the nations or Gentiles. I Corinthians 10:32: “Give no offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the gentiles, nor to the church of God…” Don’t let others confuse you in this matter, God is not finished with Israel and the Church has not taken Israel’s place. Romans 11:1-2 & 26 makes that exceedingly plain: “I say then, Hath God cast away His people? God forbid…God hath not cast away His people whom He foreknew…And so all Israel shall be saved…” When we discuss the Rapture and the end times, we need to keep these facts in mind. When Israel is added back into the equation, the whole argument of pre-tribulation or post tribulation rapture becomes a moot point, for both are correct!
Just as there is a pre-tribulation rapture of the Church, there is also a post tribulation rapture of Israel, God’s elect. Matthew 24:29-31: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give its light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven; and then shall all of 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.” This is the seventh and last rapture to take place, seven being the number of completion or perfection.
When and where then, do we find rapture numbers five and six? Raptures five and six both take place in the book of Revelation. Rapture five is of God’s “Two witnesses” who prophesy for 1,260 days (Revelation 11:3) during the great tribulation. Then they are killed by “the beast” (Revelation 11:7) and lie in the streets of Jerusalem for three and one-half days (Revelation 11:8-9). Notice that verse nine says the whole world will see this event! This could not have happened even fifty years ago, but the technology is now in place for the whole world to see this! How except by divine revelation could John have prophesied such an event? Then the fifth rapture takes place in Revelation 11:11-12: “And after three days and a half the spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet, and great fear fell upon them who saw them. And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up here. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies beheld them.”
In Revelation 7:1-8, we find the account of the sealing of the 144,000 who were to be servants of God during the tribulation, twelve thousand out of each of the twelve tribes, so these are Israelites. I have heard them likened to 144,000 Billy Grahams who will preach the Gospel during the great tribulation. That only makes sense if the Church has already been raptured, otherwise, it would still be the Church that would be preaching the gospel during the tribulation.
Verses 9-17 of chapter 7 talk about “a great multitude” who came “out of the great tribulation.” This is apparently the scripture that gives rise to a mid-tribulation rapture. However, I believe that these are those who were saved by the preaching of the 144,000 but were then martyred for converting to Christianity, fulfilling Revelation 6:9-11: “…I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the Word of God and for the testimony which they held…It was said unto them that they should rest yet for a season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.”
Once the work of the 144,000 is completed, we find them in Heaven worshipping the Lamb. Revelation 14:3: “And they sang, as it were, a new song before the throne…and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, who were redeemed from the earth.” This is the sixth rapture recorded in scripture.
The seventh rapture, as noted above is the final gathering of Israel at the end of the great tribulation as found in Matthew 24:29-31. It is interesting to me to note that five of the seven raptures deal with Israel; number two, Elijah; number three, Jesus; number five, the two witnesses, number six, the 144,000 and number seven, the nation of Israel. Only number four deals with the Church, and number one deals with Enoch, which is prophetic of number four. Enoch was not an Israelite since he lived before the time of Jacob, (whose name God changed to Israel) the father of the twelve sons, whose descendants became the twelve tribes of Israel. God is not through with Israel!
In the late 1970’s Jeanie and I were pastoring a small church in Virginia. We were young then and related well to the young people in the area and established a dynamic youth choir. We even got to sing at the Virginia theme park, “Kings Dominion.” Some of the young people had made decisions for Christ, but not all, particularly some that had been drawn in by the excitement of their friends. There were two “end times” films that were making the rounds in other local Churches at the time, “A Thief In The Night” and “Distant Thunder.” We arranged to borrow a sixteen millimeter projector (technology has certainly come a long way since then) and rented the films. The results on our young people were dramatic with most either renewing their commitment to Christ while others made a commitment to Christ. After thirty plus years, I am again in touch with a number of these young people by internet, Facebook and this blog, and I can tell you that almost all of those commitments stuck. Many of their children graduated from a Christian School that some of these young people were instrumental in starting in 1983 with seven students. It is now a K-12 School with a student body in the hundreds. Many of them now have grandchildren and are seeing that they are brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Is this the only way to look at the end times or the rapture? Certainly not. C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity while discussing the Atonement said, “Such is my way of looking at what Christians call the Atonement. But remember this is only one more picture. Do not mistake it for the thing itself: and if it does not help you, drop it.” So also I say to you, “This is my way of looking at the end times and the rapture. But remember, this is just one more picture. Do not mistake it for the thing itself: and if it does not help you, drop it.” Jeanie and I will have been married for 49 years this July. She calls herself a “panmillennialist.” We do not agree on this and a few other things in Scripture, but we do not let it affect our relationship because we agree on the fundamental that Jesus is Lord and God is on His throne and it will all “pan-out” in the end.
Many times when there are discussions about “Rapture” and “end times” or “last days,” disagreements arise. When studying Scriptures leads to a controversy or disagreements we need to keep things in the right perspective. Believers need to remember that reading and studying the Bible is good and necessary. We also need to understand that we will all bring our own ideas and some prejudices into the mix.
Some people believe that studying about the Rapture just causes division in the Church. Studying does not cause division – people cause division. We need to allow others their own freedom to believe. If their belief is directly contrary to God’s plain statements about sin; about believing in Jesus and all that means; or about living our lives in obedience to Him, then we should pray for them to have light and grace to know and live in Truth. But when a particular study still leaves open more than one possible interpretation, we should not get dogmatic and cause division. We can put all the Scriptures out there and allow each person to study and pray about it.
I believe Tom has made an in-depth presentation of what the Bible says about the Rapture. From that point, you all are free to believe what you will. I am one of those who comes to my own conclusion and feel pretty sure about it based on the Scriptures, but I am also like Tom’s friend from Seminary – I am a “panmillennialist.” God is in control and for those of us who trust Him, it will all “pan-out” in the end. But I believe a genuine open study of Rapture is good for us.
We will all face our own “end times” or “last days.” The important thing is to make sure we are ready for those days. Studying about the Rapture brings that into the forefront of our thoughts and Holy Spirit can work with our hearts about our own lives. Just as the young people in the Church in Virginia years ago were stirred to question where they stood with the Lord we must face that question for ourselves.
Rapture today, tomorrow or many years to come – or health issues or accident – or just old age and life coming to an end – there will be a last day. But today where do you stand with Jesus?
“But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And of some have compassion, making a difference; And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh. Now unto Him That is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His Glory with exceeding joy. To the only wise God, our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.” Jude 20-25.
Blessings, Tom and Jeanie