Iíll begin by acknowledging that the word ďRaptureĒ is found nowhere in the Bible. But the ACTION depicted by this word is very much a valid New Testament doctrine. ďRaptureĒ comes from the Latin word ďRapereĒ, which means to seize, or snatch.
Two different passages in Paulís epistles describe a wonderful time when all believers in Christ will either be resurrected out of their graves to immortal life or translated while they are still living, without having to first die.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.
15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 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. 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 thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
49 And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
I knew a pastor who held to a "Mid-Trib for the majority" position on the Rapture of the Church. He believed that most of the church would have to go through the first 31/2 years of the 7-year Tribulation before being raptured. Only the most spiritual saints would escape Part I of the Tribulation by rising to meet Christ in the air in the "Firstfruits Rapture" All the rest of the Christians would have to be "purified" by enduring the persecution of the Antichrist. I contend that the Tribulation Period is for unbelievers, not for Godís children, who have received the Righteousness of His Holy Son into their hearts by faith (I Cor. 1:30; Eph. 3:17). II Corinthians 5:21 is one of the most awesome verses in the New Testament: For he (God) hath made him (Christ) to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Now if Christ, at Calvary, exchanged His perfect righteousness for our foul sin rags so He could pay for our sins and make us righteous before God, who on earth has the right to say that this or that saint doesnít qualify to be raptured? At Christís appearing, true believers in Christ will have remained connected to Christ by faith, and by faith they are counted as righteous (Romans 1:17; 4:5). So why should Christians go through any part of the Tribulation? If Christians must go through the Great Tribulation, it is the time of the Churchís trouble, not just the time of Jacobís Trouble (Jer.30:7). In order to place the Church on earth during the Tribulation, you must say that God really has appointed us to wrath, even though He says has hasnít (I Thes.5:9).
Many contend that the Church needs lots of extra suffering to be purified, and the Tribulation is Godís big chance to do this. But if the Church must be ďpurifiedĒ by going through the Great Tribulation Period, that means only that part of the Church unfortunate enough to live on earth during that period of history will have to suffer it, and Jesusí precious blood was insufficient to purify a soul and extra suffering was needed. Christís Church is one body (I Cor.12:12), comprised of all born-again believers since Pentecost. If suffering through the Tribulation is a prerequisite for proving faithfulness to God, then it follows that all other generations of Christians who ever lived would have to be resurrected to do their share of suffering under the Antichrist also.
Christ will come for those who look expectantly for His appearing (II Peter 3:12). Colossians 1:22-23 assures us that Christ will finally present us unto Himself as holy and unblameable. Verse 23 begins with "if". If we continue to be grounded and settled in the Faith and not be moved away from it. Our faith should be in Christ and His righteousness, which alone meets Godís standard of holiness. The key to true eternal security lies in not turning our back on Christ in rebellion. Many claim to be Christians. But I doubt that backslidden reprobates will be raptured up to heaven out of a cathouse on the night of Christís Appearing. The other side of the coin is this: The Word of God teaches us how to live holy lives and we should walk in the light of it, but we are never to depend on our own natural strength to get us to heaven. So long as we Christians dwell in this body of flesh, none of us, in and of ourselves, would meet Godís perfect standard of holiness if we had to impress God with our own human goodness. Christ is our all-sufficiency and our goal should be that when He returns, we are found in His righteousness alone (Philippians 3:7-11).
If it were true that only the spiritual elite of the church could be raptured, where would you draw the line for either passing or failing the test of eligibility for the Rapture? We know from the Word of God that lying, blasphemy, and adultery are sins. But who on earth has the right to lay down hard and fast laws on issues where Scripture is silent? Weíre opening a can of worms when we say some saints are holier than others because of the way they look or the luxury goods they donít buy. There are a lot of so-called gray areas where Scripture is unclear. Is it okay for a woman to wear a bit of makeup or color her hair? How big can her jewelry (if any) be? What kinds of hair styles is she permitted to wear? Is TV okay? St. Paul never watched it! What about Bingo? What about boxing matches or karate? Can a couple kiss before theyíre engaged? Is mixed bathing at pools and beaches okay? Whiskey might be satanís soda pop, but what about beer?
Even if we could draw up a long list of "doís and donítís" to help us us measure someone elseís dedication to Jesus, how many times would you be allowed to slip and stumble and regain your spiritual footing again before God decided to give you an F and excluded you from the Rapture? How imperfect would you have to be before your Heavenly Bridegroom broke off His engagement to you? How "good" would your outward conduct have to be before you could finally say youíd confirmed your reservation at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb? If you went a whole day without getting mad would that make you better than someone who scolded their dog before the sun went down? When I went to school you could miss only so many questions on the test and still get a lazy "C". How many times could you foul up and repent of it, and still say your conduct had been just good enough to earn the completion of your salvation, which will include being changed to immortality at the Rapture of the Church? What about people who are converted shortly before the Rapture and havenít had time to mature in holiness? Will they be disqualified from the Rapture along with people who denounce Jesus? I donít think so. Jesus said: "Let the little children come unto Me, for of such is the Kingdom of God." Jesus said that whoever would not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child could not enter in (Luke 18:16-17).
The completion of our salvation is to be perfected into Christís likeness, even to the extent of getting a brand new body at the Rapture. Philippians 3:21 promises that Christ will change our humble body to become as glorious as His own. Notice, we donít do that, Christ does! Philippians 1:6 says: Being confident of this very thing, that he that hath begun a good work in you will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ. Notice, Paul didnít say: "Being unsure God is able to complete it all by Himself."
By faith, not through good works, Enoch was translated (taken to heaven without first dying (Hebrews 11:5). Before Enoch was taken up, he could say that he had pleased God. How? Did Enoch give money to the Temple? There was no Temple then. Did he give to the poor? We can only speculate about that. Enoch raised a family as most other people did. But the one good thing Genesis 5:24 records Enoch as doing that set him apart from the rest was this: he walked with God and God took him. If you love Jesus, youíll want to spend time walking and talking with Him every day as your best Friend. And the day will come when at the end of one good long walk Heíll say to you like He did to Enoch: "Why donít you just come on home with Me?"
What anxiety Christians suffer. You didnít have to earn the beginning of your salvation, and there is no way you can earn its end, except through submissive faith in Christ. Galatians 3:2-3 says: Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? (which speaks of works of self-effort). Christ is the author (beginner) and the finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus was a carpenter. ďAuthor and finisher" were carpentry terms, which meant to begin work on a piece (authoring) and finishing it. Christ is able to save us TO THE UTTERMOST (Hebrews 7:25). Iím sure Jesus wouldnít start making a plow, but leave it half-finished. I believe that the only way a Christian could ever risk losing his or her own salvation is if they decide they donít want Jesus anymore and take themselves out of His workshop for repairing broken souls. No one else can take you or me out of Jesusí Hand. Jesus says in John 10:28 that no one can pluck His sheep out of His Hand. However, there are lots of Scriptures which warn against falling away from the faith, such as Hebrews 6:4-8 and II Peter 2:20-22. Christ will never force anyone to remain in His love.
In I Thessalonians 4: 16-18 Paul says: 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 which 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. Paul did not say: "We who outshine all the rest spiritually will rise to meet the Lord in the air, so warn one another with these words.Ē What comfort would that have been to persecuted Christians? Worrying about being less spiritual than someone else would have created fear of facing the Antichrist, not joy in anticipating Christís Appearing. Jesus said that the Tribulation Period will be so bad that it will be the worst period in all history (Matt.24:21). If the Antichristís oppression is going to be the most monstrous regime in history, you can be sure heíll invent unprecedented, terrible tortures to ensure believers donít die a quick and easy death. It wouldnít be a breeze to resist the Mark if you watched someone else being torn apart. Even Peter denied Jesus in a moment of fear.
Itís okay to want to escape this terrible time of unprecedented trial. Jesus told us to pray that weíre counted worthy to ESCAPE all these things (Luke 21:36). We find favor with God through Christ alone. We began by grace, and we must run our race by grace. When we got converted nobody stood over us and told us we had to go out and do a long list of doís and doníts before the Holy Spirit had permission to breathe life into our innermost being. If our ultimate translation into immortality is the end product of our salvation process, then why should that part be withheld from us anymore than the first part of our salvation was? Is the Blessed Holy Spirit any less of a Gift than the Rapture will be? God breathed His Holy Spirit into our hearts by faith, not as wages for good works. Paul asks in Galatians 3:2: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith? Ephesians 1:13-14 tells us that the Holy Spirit is the earnest (guarantee) of the future redemption of Godís purchased possession, which we are. Ephesians 4:30 says we are sealed by the Spirit of God until the day of our redemption.
What? Arenít we already redeemed? From the penalty of sin, certainly. Also we are being delivered daily from the power of sin. And when we are translated to heaven we will finally be delivered from the presence of sin. Romans 8:23 assures us of the future redemption of our body. Romans 13:11 tells us that our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. I take this also to mean our salvation (redemption) from this sinful earth. The same usage of this term "redemption" occurs in Revelation 14:3, where a special task force of Jewish evangelists has just been redeemed from the earth. In Luke 21:28 Jesus tells His disciples to look up, for their redemption will draw near when signs of His appearing begin to occur in the world. If that imminent redemption from the earth is only for part of His Body, then Christís Body is about to be split apart. Suppose you went to the airport and tried to get into the plane, only to have the door shut on that half of your body that wasnít "good enough" to get in. Half of you would be left in Houston while the other part flew to New York! Jesus prayed in John 17: 11 for the unity of His Body, that we would all be one, even as He and His Father are one. If we continue to walk with Jesus in submissive faith and hold fast to salvation by grace through faith in His finished work on Calvary, we are part of Christís Body on earth and can expect to participate in the Rapture of the Church. We began by faith, and we finish by faith.
As for this crazy notion that the Great Tribulation will "purify" backsliders caught in the cathouse, I very much doubt it. If earth is bad now, it gets much worse. Gross darkness will fill the earth during the Tribulation (Isaiah 60:2). If a backslider visits the Red Light District now, chances are heíll stay there during the Tribulation, just like Lot pitched his tent toward Sodom and ended up living there. I get the feeling that backsliders will have a harder time repenting during the Tribulation than sinners who come to Christ for the very first time. The Apostle Peter gives a grim warning about backsliders in II Peter 2:20-22: For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; they are again entangled therein and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way to righteousness, than, after they had known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. Notice, Peter doesnít hold out much hope for backsliders who go back to the pigpen. I doubt Peter is talking about believers going to baseball games or wrestling matches. Heís talking about the proverbial sow jumping back into the muck and mire of sin because she no longer wants to keep clean in the Blood of Jesus.
Many self-righteous people in Jesusí day criticized Him for enjoying food and drink and socializing with tax collectors (Matt. 11:16-19). Those same people also criticized John the Baptist for doing without the finer things of life altogether. Some might have even thought John to be more virtuous than Jesus because John did not mix in sinful society, but lived in the desert. John fasted most of the time and even when he did eat, he ate grasshoppers. But John himself said of Jesus in Matthew 3:11: I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and fire. In verses 13 and 14 Jesus comes to John to be baptized. But John says: I have need to be baptized by thee, and comest thou to me? So much for religious stereotyping to judge someone else as being unworthy of being raptured!
We are purified by the Blood of Christ alone. We deny His power to save us to the uttermost through His grace when we deny this key truth. The Tribulation is going to be the darkest, dirtiest, and most deadly dangerous period in all history. Sinners are going to take off their gloves during the Tribulation, and cool dude satan is going to be exposed in all his awful ugliness. Itís plum scary. What a foul hole this world will be! Being left behind to be in the Tribulation would no more cleanse a backslider of his sins than taking a bath in a sewer! If professing believers are too chicken to live for Christ before men now, then how would living in a hell on earth Tribulation Period make them more holy and courageous?
Some think it seems too good to be true that all of Christís true believers would be taken up to heaven in the same load. That brings the spiritually proud down a peg or two, so there is no room for boasting (Eph. 2:8-9). Also, the completion of our salvation (getting our resurrection body in the Rapture) is the one part of being a Christian that is all pleasure and no pain. No more trials, no more hassle from unbelievers. But if youíre going to exclude some believers from the final part of their redemption, where do you draw the line to decide whoís worthy and whoís not? And what religious official on earth is divinely invested with the authority to set the bare minimum of good conduct which pays your fare to go up in the Rapture? What qualifies you to be the cream of the crop when Christ harvests His believers from the earth? All I know is, if abiding in Christ the Living Vine isnít enough to qualify me to go up in the Rapture, I doubt anything else will.
I remember our pastor telling us that as times grew more perilous in the earth we should be on the lookout for the appearing of the Antichrist. But Scripture tells us to look instead for the Appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13). This is the Blessed Hope of the Church. Looking for the Antichrist would be the Blasted Horror . The pastor stood up one night reading 2 Thessalonians Chapter 2. Oddly enough, he skipped over verse 7 and continued reading. This verse says:
For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. * * *The word ďletĒ as used in the KJV, means ďto hold back, or restrainĒ. Someone (the Holy Spirit resident in the Church) is hindering the emergence of Antichrist. The Restrainer must be taken out of the way before God gives Antichrist permission to rise to power.
Our church had connections to a Latter Rain New Testament type Church (5-fold ministry) out in Waco, Texas. They taught the partial rapture theory, where only the most spiritual Christians go up first, while the others suffer through half the Tribulation. If the pastor had read verse 7, his Partial Rapture belief would imply that be the ďless spiritualĒ believers will be left behind without the indwelling Holy Spirit who seals believers unto the day of redemption (Eph.1:13-14). The pastor found it easier to skip over that lone verse than admit that the Antichrist comes after weíre gone.
In John 14:1-3 Jesus promises us that He will come again to receive us unto Himself. We are Christís purchased possession which He will soon redeem from the earth. This Blessed Hope brought great joy to the early Church, though they could not foresee that some 2,000 years of the Church Age would elapse before it happened. How would it have brought the early persecuted Church any joy if they were supposed to be looking for the Antichrist and the Tribulation Period when the Antichrist would only put them through far worse sufferings? I believe that Christ will first appear for His people, then after at least 7 years, He will return with His people to rule and to reign on earth for 1000 years (see Rev.20:4-6). If the Appearing of Christ and His Second Coming are one and the same, there would be no time for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and no time for Christ to hand out rewards in heaven to His faithful saints before His Reign on earth. How, then, would each saint know which city they were appointed to rule over during that time? If Christís Appearing for the Church and His Coming to reign on earth happened simultaneously, every believer would be translated to immortality at the same time. There wouldnít be any mortal believers left for Christ and the immortal saints to rule over. I definitely donít believe in Post-Trib, which states that Christ wonít come for us until the end of the Tribulation.
The Tribulation Period doesnít picture people being kept in salvation solely by grace through faith, as taught by Paul the apostle (Eph.2:8). All are saved by the blood of Jesus, but mortal humans who survive the Tribulation are allowed to enter into Christís earthly Kingdom as a reward for ďenduring to the endĒ and for being good to Christís brethren, probably persecuted believers and Jews (Matt.25:31-46). Notice, in this Parable of Christís Judgment Upon the Nations, that Jesus separates the sheep from the goats based on whether they fed the hungry, took in the stranger, and visited those in prison. These groups are INDIVIDUALS being judged on virtuous behavior, to determine their fitness to inherit an earthly kingdom, not a heavenly one. The sheep on Christís right hand are righteous individuals, but they are not called a church, or congregation of Body of Christ, His Bride. This doctrine of performing kind deeds to earn righteous status is found frequently under the Old Covenant, where salvation was very much a conditional status which could easily be lost, based upon law-keeping or lack of it. Works-based salvation is foreign to the doctrine of grace taught by Paul and other apostles to the Church. The Church Age is distinct from other dispensations in its emphasis on being kept in salvation through faith in Christ, apart from works.
At the Rapture, the righteous will be taken from among the wicked. At the Second Coming, the tares, or the wicked, will be taken from among the wheat (righteous people who came to Christ during the Tribulation Period). Matthew 13:36-43 speaks of the Lord sending His angels to gather up the tares from His Kingdom, leaving only the righteous remaining to go into His Kingdom. When Christ returns, He will judge those few mortals who have survived the Tribulation. Those who are wicked and unfit to enter His 1000-year Kingdom will be cast off the earth, while the righteous will enter the 1000-year Kingdom to replant and replenish a planet depopulated and ruined by the terrible Tribulation judgments. Revelation 20:7-9 indicates that some descendants of the original righteous mortals who began life in the Millennial Kingdom will finally rebel against Christ and perish because of it. God has many children, but no grandchildren. We are not robots. Each person must accept Christ for himself.