A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
In part one of this series we explored some of the clearest hints from the Old Testament that the Lord has always intended to rapture the Church before the End Times judgments begin. This time we’ll continue with a two part survey of the New Testament. Because Paul was the first to reveal the mystery of the Rapture, we won’t expect to find a clear explanation in the Gospels, but since we already know about it, we’ll be able to spot a couple of hints here and there. Shall we continue?
Obvious By Our Absence?
In His definitive teaching on the End Times, the Lord warned Israel they would be hated and persecuted by all nations because of Him (Matt. 24:9). He said many would fall away from the faith, and would betray and hate each other (Matt. 24:10). He said their Temple would be desecrated by another Abomination of Desolation, and when that happened those in Judea (the New Testament name for Israel) would have to flee into the mountains immediately (Matt. 24:15). He told them to pray that their flight wouldn’t take place in the winter (winters can be harsh in the Judean wilderness) or on the Sabbath (fleeing would violate Sabbath travel restrictions) because the Great Tribulation would be coming and it would be worse than anything man has ever known (Matt. 24:20-21). He said if He didn’t personally intervene not one of them would survive it, but for the sake of the believers among them He would put an end to it at the appointed time (Matt. 24:22). He said false Messiahs and false prophets would perform great signs and miracles to deceive them as the end approached (Matt. 24:24). (Paul confirmed this in 2 Thes. 2:9-10 placing its fulfillment after the rapture.)
He said everyone on Earth will see Him when He comes back (Matt. 24:27) and it will be just like the Days of Noah. Unbelievers who survive the Great Tribulation will be taken away in the judgments that follow His return and believers will be welcomed into the Kingdom to build a new world. All this and more, He said to Israel. (Matt. 24:36-25:46)
But did He speak one word of comfort, or even warning, to His Bride? Did He say He’d protect us through this terrifying time? Did He even acknowledge our existence? No. Not once. Why? Because He was talking to Israel about a time after we’re gone. He left it to Paul to explain the details of our rescue after it was too late to stop what He was about to do for us.
Lot Had To Leave Sodom (Revisited)
“It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.” (Luke 17:28-29)
In Luke 17:26-27 Jesus had been saying how in the days of Noah unbelievers hadn’t heeded the warnings they were given, and didn’t avail themselves of the Lord’s provision for their rescue. They were caught by surprise when the flood came and it destroyed them all.
At first glance verses 28-29 seem like a similar example, but it’s really very different. Lot was taken away from the time and place of the judgment before it began. In fact the angels who were sent to remove him said they couldn’t bring the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah until Lot was away and safe. (Genesis 19:21-22) As I demonstrated in part one of this series, Lot served as a model of the Church who also has to be rescued from the time and place of the coming judgment before it can begin.
The Resurrection And The Life
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)
This is an amazing statement. The Lord had already said that whoever believes in Him would not perish but would have eternal life. (John 3:16) Here he provided more detail, saying that even though a believer experiences physical death, he will still have life. He was referring to the resurrection of those who die in faith. And then He said there would be some would never die, but would pass from this life directly into the next one. If we didn’t already know about the rapture, we wouldn’t see this, but since we do we can understand that He was talking about that one generation of believers who will be alive when He comes for the Church, and will receive eternal life without dying first. And once again the Lord confirmed that the single qualification for eternal life is to believe that His death paid the entire price for our sins.
What’s To Become Of Israel?
When they finished, James spoke up: “Brothers, listen to me. Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: ” ‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things that have been known for ages. (Acts 15:13-18)
It was not quite 20 years after the cross, and the Apostles were meeting together in Jerusalem. None of the New Testament had been written yet. 483 years of Daniel’s 490 year prophecy for Israel (Daniel 9:24-27) had been fulfilled on schedule but with the Messiah’s death everything had come to a stop. Before He died, the Lord had even told them that the Temple would soon be completely destroyed, and after His resurrection He had refused to confirm their hope that the Kingdom would now be restored to Israel. In effect He had said, “That’s not for you to know.” (Acts 1:6) And now Peter, Paul, and Barnabas had given eye witness accounts of the Holy Spirit coming directly upon Gentiles with much prophesying and speaking in tongues. If Gentiles could come straight to the Lord and receive the Holy Spirit without converting to Judaism first, did that mean God was finished with the Jews? If so what would become of Israel and all the Lord’s unfulfilled promises to His people?
James, the Lord’s half brother, helped them understand what was coming. What we now know as the Dispensation of Law had been interrupted while the Lord takes from among the Gentiles a people for Himself (the Church). In Greek the phrase “taking from” literally means to take out of, or carry away from. It denotes an exit, a separation of time, place, and cause.
After He has taken the Church, James said, the Lord will turn His attention once again to Israel. The Temple will be rebuilt and the remaining 7 years of the Dispensation of Law will run their course. This is the time we know as Daniels 70th week. Here’s a hint that the rapture of the Church will take place before Daniel’s 70th Week begins. He concluded by saying the Lord has known for ages that He was going to do this.
Paul, who was there, explained it to the Church at Rome this way. I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is (or will be) my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” (Romans 11:25-27)
The Greek word translated “full number” was often used in a nautical sense to define the number of sailors, oarsmen, and soldiers required to man a ship. Once a ship had its full number it could set sail for it’s intended destination. When it arrived it was said to have “come in.” I believe Paul’s intention was to say that the Church has a “full number” and once that number is reached it will set sail for its intended destination, heaven. No one on Earth knows this number or how close we are to reaching it and that’s why no one will know the day or hour of the rapture in advance.
When the Church’s “full number” has “come in” to its heavenly destination, God will turn His attention once again to Israel and the final 7 years of Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy will be fulfilled, culminating in the Lord’s return to establish His Kingdom. This is the Kingdom promised to Israel that Daniel said would never be destroyed, or left to another people, but will endure forever. (Daniel 2:44).
The Rapture Goes Public
They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. (1 Thes 1:10)
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. (1 Thes. 4:16-17)
For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thes. 5:9)
These are the rapture verses, named for the Latin translation of the Greek word harpadzo, which means to be caught up or snatched away in English, and which appears in 1 Thes. 4:17. In part one of this series I showed how closely they resemble Isaiah 26:19-21. I believe Paul was using Isaiah’s words to support his claim that this wasn’t just his idea, but had been announced by the Lord nearly eight hundred years earlier.
With the first letter to the Thessalonians Paul gave the first clear promise of a pre-tribulation Rapture. When He called Jesus the one who will rescue us from the coming wrath in chapter 1, he meant that sometime before the seal judgments of Rev. 6, which signal the beginning of God’s wrath (Rev. 6:16-17) Jesus will separate the Church from the time and place of the End Times Judgments. (Look up the full meaning of the Greek word translated “from” in 1 Thes. 1: 10 to confirm this.) In Chapter 4 he said this separation would happen when the Lord comes to take us to be with Him in Heaven. First, believers who have died will be raised up. Then, we who are still alive will be snatched away with them to meet the Lord in the air. Then in chapter 5 he repeated the reason for our sudden rescue. It was never intended that the Church would suffer through the time of God’s wrath.
Say That Again, Paul
Between the two letters we call 1st and 2nd Thessalonians something happened that would have scared the recipients right out of their socks had they been wearing any. They received a letter that appeared to be from Paul but was in fact a forgery. According to 2 Thes 2:1-2 it said the Day of the Lord had already come. Confused and frightened, they dashed off a hurried request for clarification since this new letter contradicted what Paul had previously taught them.
Here we get an extraordinary insight into their understanding of the sequence of End Times events. Receiving word that the Day of the Lord had come would only have upset them so much if they’d been led to believe that the Rapture of the Church would precede it. Think about it. From any other view, this kind of news would have been scary for sure, but their fear would have been tempered by a certain amount of joyous anticipation. Sure the next few years would really be rough, but whether by martyrdom or survival they would soon be in the presence of the Lord forever.
But from the pre-trib perspective, hearing that the Day of the Lord had come would be horrifying, because it would mean that they had missed the rapture. And that would mean they weren’t saved. No wonder they wrote Paul for clarification!
It’s important to understand that they had asked Paul two questions. The first concerned the Day of the Lord and the second was about our being gathered to Him, the Rapture. Paul answered the 2 questions in that order using verses 3-5 to describe conditions that would bring about the Day of the Lord and verses 6-8 to explain when the rapture would occur in relation to them.
Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? (2 Thes. 2:3-5)
Confirming and amplifying Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy (Daniel 9:27) and the Lord’s warning from the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:15), Paul pegged the beginning of the Great Tribulation to the moment the antichrist stands in the Temple in Jerusalem proclaiming himself to be God.
And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. (2 Thes. 2:6-8)
Before the antichrist can be officially revealed, One who is currently limiting the power of lawlessness has to be taken out of the way. The phrase “out of the way” literally means out of the midst, or from amongst. Some force that restrains the power of evil within certain predetermined limits (for this power is already at work on Earth) has to be removed.
Scholars who read the passage literally identify this force as the Holy Spirit. And since the Holy Spirit is sealed within us, if He’s taken out from amongst the people of Earth, we have to go too. You can’t take the Restrainer without taking the container, as someone has said. This is the Rapture of the Church, and once we’re gone the power of evil will be free from restraint and all Hell will break loose on Earth until the Lord returns at the end of the Great Tribulation to put a stop to it.
Here then is the sequence. Before the Day of the Lord can come, the antichrist has to be revealed, and before he can be revealed the church has to be raptured. So according to Paul the next prophetic event involving believers could be our own disappearance. We’re not finished yet, so be sure to tune in again next time for the exciting conclusion of Rapture References.