A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
This is the final installment of our three part series on rapture references in the Bible. We concluded part two with Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians. Written about 20 years after the cross, they were the first definitive teaching on the rapture given on Earth, and as we saw Paul placed it before the End Times judgments, saying the Church was not appointed to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thes. 5:9).
Shortly after writing the Thessalonian letters, Paul wrote 1 Corinthians and in chapter 15 added more detail to his rapture teaching. We’ll begin the final installment there.
What Will We Look Like?
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul was teaching about the resurrection, responding to questions about how the dead will be raised and what we’ll look like. He used an example from agriculture to describe it. You can’t tell what a plant will look like by examining the seed. You have to plant it and wait till it grows. When it does the plant will look different from the seed, but the farmer will recognize it as having come from the seed he planted. He said that’s the way is is with us. We can’t enter Heaven in our earthly state, so we have to be changed into our heavenly state. When we are, the splendor of our heavenly body will be different from the splendor of our earthly one, but we’ll still be recognizable. Just as we can we can tell the sun from the moon and the stars from either and from each other, so it will be with us. We’ll all be unique, recognizable individuals.
Then in 1 Cor. 15:51-53 He wrote;
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.
The Greek word for mystery means secret. By saying he was going to tell them a mystery, Paul was saying he was about to reveal a secret. And here it is. When the Lord comes down to meet us in the air we’ll receive no advance notice. In one instant we’ll be going about our business here on Earth and in the next we’ll be standing in the Kingdom. It will happen so fast we won’t have time to blink our eyes. We’ll hear the Trumpet call of God and the voice of the archangel and we’ll step out of this world into the next one. As we look around we’ll realize that multitudes of believers from the Church Age have joined us. The dead will have been given new bodies and the living will have been transformed from mortal to immortal. Paul said we’ll know as we’re known (1 Cor. 13:12), so just as the Lord will recognize each of us, we’ll recognize each other. And John said that what we’ll be is not yet known, but we know that when He appears we’ll be like Him (1 John 3:2) To me that means we’ll have the same capabilities that He demonstrated after His resurrection.
Don’t confuse the trumpet we’ll hear with the 7th Trumpet of Rev. 11:15. In the first place what we’ll hear is the trumpet of God, mentioned elsewhere only in Exodus 19:13 & 19. The 7th Trumpet is blown by an angel in Heaven, announces the beginning of the Great Tribulation, and is never called the last trumpet.
As I said, the Trumpet of God is only mentioned twice in the Bible. The first one is in Exodus 19 at Mt. Sinai and the last one is in 1 Thes. 4. There are some incredible parallels between the giving of the Law and the Rapture of the Church. And as you might expect there are also some big differences. We’ll look at the similarities first.
Both are accompanied by the audible voice of God and both create a Kingdom. At Mt. Sinai the Israelites were redeemed from slavery, at the Rapture we’re redeemed from sin. They were consecrated, we’re perfected. They washed their clothes, we’re given clean clothes. God came to the Mt. top, Jesus comes to the air. At Mt. Sinai Moses and Aaron went up, at the rapture we go up. At Mt. Sinai Israel was wed to God. At the Rapture the Church is wed to Jesus. At Mt. Sinai God dwelt with Israel and at the rapture the Church will dwell with Jesus.
Since many Biblical models are necessarily incomplete, there are also some obvious differences. Only Moses and Aaron could ascend the mountain. Anyone else going up passed from life to death. At the rapture we all go up and everyone passes from death to life. God promised to dwell with Israel if they obeyed. We will dwell with Jesus because He obeyed. They changed themselves temporarily, He changes us permanently. Theirs was an event accompanied by great fear, ours is an event anticipated with great joy. After all Mt. Sinai was the presentation of God’s Law, and the Rapture is the manifestation of His grace. God blew the First Trump in Exodus 19 in preparation for the giving of the Law, and will blow the the Last Trump in 1 Thes. 4:16 to initiate the Rapture.
Rescuing The Righteous
Abraham had reminded the Lord that His character wouldn’t allow Him to judge the righteous with the wicked. Even though the negotiated requirement of 10 righteous men to spare Sodom and Gomorrah hadn’t been met, God instructed the angels to remove Lot before destroying the cities. Speaking of this Peter wrote, “if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.” (2 Peter 2:9)
Peter wanted us to see from the example of Lot that his case wasn’t an isolated incident but was meant to convey a general principle. The Greek word translated “from” in the NIV is more clearly rendered “out of” in the King James. It means away from the time and place of the event being referenced. We see a similar idea conveyed in Isaiah 57:1:
The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.
Here the Hebrew word translated “taken away” means to gather in, receive, or remove. God’s character is such that He can’t allow the righteous to be punished with the wicked.
The 7 Churches Of Rev. 2-3
In a previous study I’ve demonstrated how the seven churches of Rev. 2-3 chronicle Church history. I showed how the first 3 churches (Ephesus, Smyrna and Pergamus) have all disappeared and the remaining 4 (Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea) are all present today. Viewed in chronological order and compared to Church history these four represent the Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical and Apostate churches of today.
In Rev. 2: 22-24 the Lord warned that some from the Church in Thyatira will face the tribulation while others will be rescued and share in rewards that are uniquely reserved for true believers, which includes the rapture. The distinction will be made on the basis of their beliefs. Those who’ve remained true to the Gospel will go while those who adhere to the Catholic church’s “Jesus plus Mary, grace plus works, and Scripture plus sacraments” doctrine will not.
In the letter to Sardis, which represents the main line denominations, Jesus warned of dead orthodoxy having only the appearance of life. “Remember what you have received and heard and obey it,” He said, “Or else you won’t know at what time I will come to you.” He was referring to the Gospel, and notice He said “to you”, not “for you”. Many in the main line denominations don’t know they need to be born again, haven’t got a clue that we’re in the end times and have never even heard of the rapture. As in Thyatira, he said there are a few in Sardis who have remained true. They’ll walk with Him for they are worthy. Once again some will be taken and some left based on what they believe.
Philadelphia is often called The Church of the Rapture because of the Lord’s promise to keep us from the hour of trial that’s going to come upon the whole world (Rev. 3:10). The Greek word translated “from” here is the same one Peter used in describing the Lord’s ability to rescue godly men from trials. Remember it means away from the time and place of the event being referenced, in this case the End Times judgments that are coming upon the whole world. Because we’ve kept His word and not denied His name, He has promised us a place in the New Jerusalem, where only those whose names have been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life can enter (Rev. 21:27). This is the Lord’s personal confirmation of a pre-trib rapture, which when John wrote this in about 95AD had been taught on Earth for nearly 50 years.
The “Church” at Laodicea is really an apostate movement, a spiritual rebellion. Although it has been around through out the Church Age, it’s current prominence is a sign that the End of the Age is approaching (2 Thes. 2:3) Thinking of itself as rich and self sufficient, it lacks the one thing money can’t buy, a Savior. He’s outside the door knocking, hoping someone will hear. There’s no promise to rescue the group, who will be spit out of his mouth, only to individuals who hear and respond.
Come Up Here!
At the beginning of Rev. 4, John was called forward to the End of the Age and up into Heaven to observe and report on events that were nearly 2000 years in his future. When he arrived at the throne of God he saw a group never before seen in any of the Bible’s pictures of God’s throne. Isaiah didn’t see them (Isaiah 6) Ezekiel didn’t see them (Ezekiel 1 & 10), and even Daniel, whose vision was oriented in the End Times only saw a vague hint in the form of plural thrones (Daniel 7:9). I’m speaking of the 24 elders sitting on thrones encircling the Throne of God (Rev. 4:4)
These 24 elders confuse some people, but they shouldn’t. Their appearance gives them away. They have thrones, so they’re rulers. They surround the Throne of God, so they’re assisting Him. They’re seated, so their work is done. They’re dressed in white, so they’re righteous. They’re wearing crowns, so they’re kings. It’s the Greek “stephanos” crown so they’re victors, over comers. They’re called Elders, a title associated with the Church. That’s a pretty strong case for them representing the Church, and no one has ever come up with a better one.
Some try to explain the 24 thrones by saying that they belong to an unidentified group of ruling angels. But four prophets saw the throne of God and recorded their experience. Of the four, only John saw them. And note that the Church won’t receive crowns until the Bema Seat judgment that takes place after the Rapture. Is this a symbolic view of the church in Heaven before the judgments begin? It looks that way to me.
The Song Of The Redeemed
And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men (us) for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them (us) to be a kingdom (kings) and priests to serve our God, and they (we) will reign on the earth.” (Rev. 5:8-10)
This is a controversial passage and taken by itself its difficult to understand. But even though most of the modern translations read like the one above, both the King James Version and Young’s Literal Translation put the passage in the first person plural as I’ve indicated in parentheses. The first person version helps support the view that the 24 Elders represent the Church.
Also the Greek word for King and Kingdom is the same, differing only by gender. King is the masculine form and is the one that appears in Rev. 5:10. (Kingdom is feminine.) So the verse is more grammatically and theologically correct when it’s translated Kings and Priests, which define the Church, rather than a kingdom and priests. And there’s no other group that fits the description of verse 9. Finally, the song is more consistent with the context of the passage when it’s sung by the redeemed Church, not by a third party singing about the Church. Taken together Rev. 4-5 present a good circumstantial case for the Church being present in Heaven before the wrath of God begins in Rev. 6. As we’ve already seen, this is what the Bible has promised from the beginning.
Who’s That With The Lord?
Speaking of the anti-Christ and his 10 king confederacy Rev. 17:14 says, “They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.”
This is an overview statement that describes the Great Tribulation, during which Satan, working through the anti-Christ, will attempt to assert his ownership claim to Planet Earth. Rev. 17:13 says these 10 kings will have only that one purpose during the time of their reign. Rev. 17:17 says that the Lord will agree to their rule in order for them to accomplish His purpose, not theirs, and that’s to destroy the Great Prostitute. Once they’re finished with her He will appear to personally oversee their defeat. And guess who’ll be with Him when He returns? His called, chosen and faithful followers. That can only be the Church, in Heaven during the Great Tribulation, and returning with Him at its end.
From Genesis to Revelation, the overwhelming weight of evidence, some circumstantial and some testimonial shows that the Lord always intended to remove the Church from Earth before the End Times Judgments and to hide us in His Father’s house until His wrath has passed by. Even so, come Lord Jesus.