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In these, the last of the last days, we hear of some believers receiving visions of the rapture, and hearing warnings that it is about to happen. Many who are not ready will be left behind as Jesus suddenly appears to catch away the Church and take His beloved Bride to heaven. These urgent words to be ready should not be ignored. The body of Christ is called to be set apart and sanctified by His blood, for a whole different purpose than the goals and plans made to live in this world indefinitely. Now more than ever, believers must put aside all things that only lead them to live for this world and not prepare them for what comes next.
The rapture of the Church is a very real event. Although we don’t see the actual word ‘rapture’ in the Bible, the concept of the saints being caught up in the air to be with the Lord forever, is still scripturally sound. Whether we describe it by using the word ‘rapture’ or just ‘the catching away’, it refers to the same thing. But there is quite a difference in opinion about how it comes about and what the aftermath will be.
The Bible also identifies a group of faithful believers called ‘the remnant’ who are enabled by God to ‘remain’ in the sense of standing undefeated by the gates of hell itself, in the fullness of His Kingdom. They are by no means forgotten or abandoned by God, but strengthened to the point where they dwell on earth as He is in heaven to bring forth the fullness of His Kingdom.
The greatest controversy about the rapture arises from the idea that believers will be ‘caught up’ to be with Christ before there is any serious suffering required, and that those who fail to be caught up this way are left behind in the sense of being abandoned to their own fate. If we believe the Word of God to be infallible, then it’s important to understand this way of thinking is not scripturally sound.
Compare Matthew 24 with 1 Thessalonians 4 to see some of the differences. The entire chapter of Matthew 24 speaks of perilous situations to be experienced by believers in the end times. It says there will be wars, famines, natural disasters and some will be persecuted to the point of death because of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 13 says that the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And the gospel will be preached to the ends of the earth in the meantime. Verse 22 says ‘If those days had not been cut short no one would have survived but for the sale of the elect, those days will be shortened.’
Surely the elect would be included in the ones caught up to meet Christ in the air when He comes for His Church. How could they not be? And if they are not, then who is? The non-elect? It must be recognized that the catching away of the saints is not about escaping painful trials and hardships but rather those trials are allowed so we will draw ever closer to Him in the midst of them.
At just that time, false Messiahs will appear and perform many signs and wonders to deceive even the elect if that were possible (verses 22-24). One of those false signs currently appears to be the hope of an early rapture so that believers who have not fulfilled their callings in Christ can escape any times of personal hardship rather than being willing to reach as many for Christ as they are empowered to do. The rapture is held out as an escape clause from the challenges about to be faced by this world, with no concern for innocent men, women and children about to be lost for eternity without Christ. The truth, according to God’s Word, appears to be a bit different.
Matthew 24:36-41 says “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.”
A common understanding of this passage is that those who are taken – the man in the field, and woman grinding with a hand mill – represent those who are raptured while those who are left are too late and will be abandoned. But that’s not how it was in the days of Noah. At that time, the ones taken were those eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage until the flood came and took them all away. The ones who were left, remained standing in the righteousness of God, and preserved through the great flood – Noah and his family.
Compare this with 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 which says “According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until 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. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
This was written in the first century AD. It tells us that we who are found standing firm in the will of God, still alive when He comes, will NOT precede those who have fallen asleep (ie, died in this world). The ones who have died will first rise from the dead. When we hear the trumpet call of God and the voice of the archangel the next thing we should see is the dead rising from the grave. 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.”
It tells us there are things to be endured, that we are called to withstand and survive as part of remaining firm in the will of God to the very end. Those trials are meant to purify our faith and draw us closer to Himself. The rapture happens as a result of that, not in spite of it.
Daniel 12:1-3 confirms this, saying “At that time Michael, 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. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.”
Other scriptures give reasons to suggest that when we meet the Lord in the air we are not necessarily leaving planet earth. Jesus taught us to pray “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). In Matthew 5:5 He said “The meek will inherit the earth.” In Revelation 21 we read about the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven like a beautiful Bride dressed for her husband as we experience a new heaven and a new earth. In Romans 8:17-21 we read about overcomers having such an impact that all of creation awaits for them to manifest so that creation itself can be delivered from its bondage to decay.
There is so much more involved than just being rescued from the hardships of life in this world that the end result is not only a new heaven, but a new earth. In light of all this, the place of the rapture can only be directly related to a persons’s individual relationship with the Lord and His unique plans for each one. But it’s clear from His Word that the idea being put forth – that one will be taken (ie raptured) and another left (abandoned) is a mistake. That passage from Matthew 24 is not telling us the ones who are taken are about to be blessed in any way.
Further, scriptures like Isaiah 60 speak of the end times destiny of Israel. Verses 1-5 say Arise, shine, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples but the Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip. Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you; to you the riches of the nations will come.”
Verse 8 says “Who are these that fly along like clouds, like doves to their nests?” Could these be the same clouds where we meet Christ in the air? Verse 15 says “Although you have been forsaken and hated, with no one traveling through, I will make you the everlasting pride and the joy of all generations.” Verses 20-21 say “Your sun will never set again and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end. Then all your people will be righteous and they will possess the land forever.”
Doesn’t this tell us there is more that the Lord plans to be done in the earth to see this come to pass? If we are all going to be caught up together then where do His sovereign plans for Israel and the Jewish people fit in?
In Revelation 2:7-13, the Lord’s word to the Church of Philadelphia says that these believers will not have to go through the hour of trial about to come on the whole earth to test those who live on the earth. At the same time they will remain in His temple as a pillar, and they will have the name of God written on the as well as the name of the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven. It sounds like they will be based in two places – on the ground and in the air, at the same time. So where do they fit in the rapture and how can it be the case that if they are still on the ground it means they are left behind, as in abandoned?
The bottom line is that each believer is unique to God and created according to His purposes. He knows each of us so well that He numbers the hairs on our heads. All the plans He made for us were written in His book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139). When we hear urgent warnings about an impending rapture it’s important to first check our own relationship with God. What is He saying to us personally about ourselves and our place in His Kingdom? Are we going to allow ourselves to be motivated by fear and look out for ourselves only, or will we stand up in faith expressed through love with expectant hearts, so we can receive all we need to bring as many souls as possible into His Kingdom?
An old saying that proves to be valid is this: “It’s better to be prepared for the tribulation and surprised by the rapture, than prepared only for the rapture and surprised by the tribulation.” The Word of God is true and it clearly teaches that we must endure times of fiery trials to prove our faith as genuine and that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (1 Peter 1:7; Philippians 2:12). It’s important to beware of being motivated by fear to hope for a quick escape from those trials, regardless of what happens to anyone else, because that fear will lead to powerful delusions for those who refuse to love the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).
On the other hand, to follow the way of love by taking up the cross and walking as Jesus did, leads to a spiritual place where the sheer majesty of God’s love swallows up death itself (1 John 2:6). We take up residence in who He is and become part of the solutions to all the trials faced by others. As another saying goes, we don’t need to fear the storm but rather we ARE the storm that comes to over-rule the gates of hell itself.
The true Church doesn’t run from the tribulation. It was created to cast down the gates of hades and shine the light of God’s love to as many as possible so they will spend eternity with Him instead of without Him. What takes place with the rapture in the meantime will be made known as it happens. The only reason to worry is if we are so focused on ourselves only, we let fear displace His love in our hearts so we fail to become all He created us to be on earth as He is in heaven.
Even so, come Lord Jesus, Amen.