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Bible Questions

Will there be a Rapture of the Church?

The controversy around rapture goes on. Will there be a rapture of the church before the tribulation?

Some leaders are against the idea of a rapture of the church. Other leaders embrace a rapture of the church, and build their ministries upon it. Rapture remains controversial, and there are many opinions about it.

One of the difficulties in understanding the rapture controversy is that it's part of prophecy. Many of the conclusions people have come from interpretations of prophecy. Whether one is a premillennialist (Jesus returns before the millennium), or a postmillennialist (Jesus returns after the millennium), and how one interprets the events of the tribulation period, will affect one's conclusions about the rapture.

Many of the prophecies involved in the rapture doctrine are esoteric, but we can simplify the matter by first considering the return of Jesus. The bible describes Jesus returning to earth at the second advent. It doesn't tell us that he will return multiple times

"So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation" (Hebrews 9.28 KJV bible). "And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming" (1st John 2.28 KJV bible).

The church is awaiting the return of Christ, when he shall appear the second time "unto salvation". This means that his appearance will bring about the deliverance of his people from the troubles of the world, "Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels" (2nd Thessalonians 1.6-7 KJV bible).

If Jesus was going to be rapturing some or all of his servants out of the world, then why does the bible instruct us as Christians to be expectant and hopeful for his appearance, as in Titus 2.12-13, "Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly...Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2.12-13 KJV bible)?

The bible tells us to be hopeful in anticipation for Christ's return as Chief of all shepherds, "Feed the flock of God which is among you...And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away" (1st Peter 5.4 KJV bible). This verse describes the appearance of Christ, not a rapture of the church.

These verses are part of the well established doctrine that Jesus returns at the second advent. Jesus' parousia or presence in the world brings about the end of the age. His return is triumphant and powerful.

Rapture believers accept this belief, but they also believe that there will be a rapture of the church. They see this rapture as an hidden event that happens before Jesus returns. He doesn't appear to the world, but instead he snatches believers out of the world to be with him. This event is separate from the second advent.

2nd Thessalonians chapter 2 gives the signs before Jesus returns.

In 2nd Thessalonians the apostle gives us a message about the end of the age. He gives us a concise answer about what must happen before Jesus' return. These events are important signs that a watchman should look for.

"And, brothers, we entreat you, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of our gathering together to Him, for you not to be quickly shaken in the mind, nor to be disturbed, neither through a spirit, nor through speech, nor through letter, as through us, as if the Day of Christ has come. Do not let anyone deceive you in any way, because that Day will not come unless first comes the falling away, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, the one opposing and exalting himself over everything being called God, or object of worship, so as for him "to sit in the temple of God" as God, setting forth himself, that he is God" (2nd Thessalonians 2.1-4 LITV bible).

As today, there was also confusion about these events in the time of the early church. There were many theories about the end of the age. 2nd Thessalonians 2 is given by the apostle as a clarification to believers. The apostle warns believers about deception, and gives two super-signs that will precede Jesus' return.

As explained in the passage, Jesus will not return until there is a falling away. This falling away, or apostasy, is connected to the second important sign; the antichrist. The antichrist will be revealed to the world, exalting himself against God, and being worshipped by the masses of people who are deceived (see also 2nd Thess 2.9-11).

Thus we are given a clear answer that the great deception of the antichrist must come first, before the "gathering" to Christ. Believers should be prepared and watching so they aren't deceived. The antichrist will be given a season to tempt believers with signs and wonders. Then after this time of testing, not before, the faithful will be gathered to Messiah.

The rapture is connected to the first resurrection.

Christ's return to earth will be a cataclysmic event that fulfills many prophecies. One of these important prophecies is the first resurrection of the dead. The first resurrection of the dead will happen immediately at Jesus' presence.

"Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 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" (1st Corinthians 15.51-52 KJV bible). Jesus will return at the last trumpet, which is the seventh trumpet, and at his appearance, the saints (both living and dead) will be changed into resurrection bodies).

Part of this resurrection involves believers being gathered to Jesus as he returns, "And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven" (Mark 13.26-27 KJV bible).

This gathering of believers is also described in the the famous rapture passage of 1st Thessalonians 4.16-17, "For the Lord Himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ shall rise first. 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 so we shall ever be with the Lord" (1Thessalonians 4:16-17 MKJV bible).

When we compare the passages of 1st Corinthians 15, Mark 13, and 1st Thessalonians 4 there are many similarities. All the passages describe a gathering of believers to the Lord. Both 1st Thessalonians 4 and 1st Corinthians 15 describe the dead in Christ being raised. These three passages have a lot in common, but are they the same event?

What's obvious about 1st Thessalonians 4 is that it says the dead in Christ will rise first. When we see the similarity to 1st Corinthians 15, it seems that the two passages describe the same event. The whole chapter of 1st Corinthians 15 is about the first resurrection, and much of 1st Thessalonians 4 is as well.

Further, we know that 1st Corinthians 15 says this raising of the dead takes place at the last trumpet. If they are describing the same event, then 1st Thessalonians 4.16 must also take place at the last trumpet. If the two events are the same, then they must both happen at the end of the age.

People who believe in a pre-trib rapture often feel strongly about it. They believe 1st Thessalonians 4 is an unique event. They believe 1st Thessalonians 4 describes believers being taken to heaven, not gathering to Jesus at his return. It's a hidden rapture that will take them out of the world before the tribulation.

What is the post-tribulation rapture?

To further confuse the matter, there are several versions of the rapture doctrine. According to the post-tribulation rapture theory, the rapture takes place at the end of the tribulation when Jesus returns. The post-tribulation rapture belief sees the event as part of the second advent, when Jesus returns.

Post tribulation rapture doctrine interprets the event as part of the first resurrection. In a post-tribulation rapture, believers aren't secretly taken out of the world, but meet the Lord in the air as he returns. They don't disappear into heaven, but will reign with him during the millennium.

In this view the resurrection of the dead is understood as a rapture-like event. This rapture-like event involves the uniting of the church with Christ as the eternal bride of the Lamb. It will be a spiritual raising up of believers, when they are received by Christ as sons of God.

Post-tribulation rapture can be understood as a compromise. It accepts the literal description of a rapture-like event described in 1st Thessalonians 4. However it places this event in the proper context of Jesus' return. A post-tribulation rapture is not a hidden rapture, but part of the second advent. Of course many people who believe in rapture don't accept the post-tribulation compromise.

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