Clarifying the “Rapture” of the Church
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
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For as long as I have been alive, which is just over 6 decades, there has been endless talk and rampant speculation about the ‘rapture’, or literally snatching away, of all the real followers of Christ within 3-7 years of the return, or Second Coming, of our Lord and Savior. There are 3 versions or explanations of the “rapture” of the Church, also known in the Book of Revelation as the Bride of Christ. But before we get into that, let’s have a look at one of several passages in the New Testament about the ‘rapture’ so we can get a little background. “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to God’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till 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, and the voice of the archangel and 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 our Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.” (1st Thessalonians 4, verses 13-18)
There is considerable symbolism being used here by the apostle Paul, the man who wrote the above passage of Scripture, but its nature is not complex. The phrase “those who fall asleep” is an ancient expression for what we now call ‘the deceased’ or ‘the dearly departed’ or ‘the late whoever’ and so on. But Paul then comes right back and sums up the essence of Christianity in one simple sentence: “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” So right here Paul establishes that all who were sincere believers in Christ Jesus while they were living will rise again just as Jesus did, when he returns for us. Despite those who doubt or make fun of Biblical teachings such as these, they will all come to pass exactly as the Bible says, of that you can be sure!
The apostle Paul then closes out this train of thought with: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, and the voice of the archangel and 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 our Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” Notice that when the Lord returns, he will not descend to the earth. We’re going to meet Him in the air instead. I suspect that one main reason could be due to an excess of radiation due to nuclear fallout from a catastrophic war. Like, say, World War Three, for instance. Hold that thought, because I’m going to tell you why in just a minute. But first, I need to explain the difference between pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, and post-tribulation “raptures”. Please stay with me, everyone, this will be easy to understand, but I have to be careful how I explain all this.
‘Pre-tribulation’ means the dead believers in Christ, along with all who are alive at the time of their resurrection, will be taken up at the beginning of the 7 year Tribulation period. ‘Mid-tribulation’ means at the halfway point, or roughly 3.5 years after it starts, and ‘post-tribulation means we’ll all be stuck here until it’s over and Jesus returns to rule the earth. First, allow me to reference 2 short passages of Scripture that completely disproves the first scenario, the ‘pre-tribulation rapture’. The first is from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 24, beginning at verse 3: “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, some of the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us’, they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ Jesus answered, ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name saying, ‘I am the Christ’, and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. Because of the increase in wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end shall be saved. And this gospel will be preached to the whole world, and then the end will come.’” (Matt. 24, verses 3-14)
When asked about this series of events by his apostles, the very first thing out of the mouth of our Lord and Savior was, “Watch out that no one deceives you.” That sums up everything we need to know about all those who claim to predict the future. Anyone who claims to know the date of Christ’s return, or who says they know exactly when the ‘rapture’ of the Church will occur, simply doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Moreover, they bring divine Judgment on themselves for claiming to speak on God’s behalf, when in fact they are only speaking for themselves. But right after that is when Jesus gets to the point when he said, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” These four little sentences straight from the mouth of our Savior and Redeemer eliminate any possibility that the “pre-tribulation rapture” is the correct interpretation regarding its timing. After all, we can’t be taken up to heaven prior to the start of the tribulation period if some of us will be put to death for our faith, and for refusing to take the “Mark of the Beast” from the Antichrist and his soldiers and minions! It is not possible to be at two different points in time simultaneously! I rest my case – but wait (sorry for the cliche here)! There’s more, and it can be found in Revelation chapter 13, and I quote:
“The beast was given power to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for forty-two months. He opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” (Revelation 13, verses 5-8)
“The beast” symbolizes the Antichrist, who was “given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation.” How can the Antichrist conquer the saints, evidently by the use of the military, if they were “raptured” at the start of the 7 year tribulation? This is my second and final reason for my case against the “pre-tribulation rapture”. But for my final part of this week’s message and Biblical teaching, we need to go back to Daniel chapter 9 and verse 27: “He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven’. In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the Temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”
Rather than quote the entire 7-verse paragraph the above verse is taken from, let me define “seven” as a year, although this is sometimes used interchangeably with ‘weeks’, depending on which version of the Bible you prefer. So we can see here that the “covenant with many” will be most likely of 7 years duration. Based on my own intensive studies, as well as the commentaries and teachings of those more qualified than I, this most likely symbolizes a Mideast peace agreement that is about to be fulfilled. But then, in the middle of the ‘seven’ described by Daniel, the “beast” – or Antichrist – “will put an end to sacrifice and offering.” And so all religious worship involving anything other than the Mark of the Beast will be outlawed, as it is written: “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world. He who has an ear, let him hear. If anyone is going into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.” (Revelation 13, verses 8-10) Does this read like there’s going to be a “pre-tribulation rapture”? On the contrary – some of us will be imprisoned for our faith, still more of us will be killed. This is because their names are all found in the “book of life belonging to the Lamb”, who is Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who has removed the sins of the world, but only for those who believe in Him and call upon his name. But the rest of humanity who worships the beast, which will be the majority of people from that time soon to come, will seal their own doom by doing so. None of us has any way of knowing when the ‘rapture’ will occur. It’s time to stop wasting time speculating about it, and to live our lives as if Jesus were coming that very night to take us home. Because, you know, one of these nights he really will.