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The Rapture Controversy in the Church

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

Some Christian leaders are against the idea of a rapture of the church. Others 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 involves many prophecies. However, we can start by first considering the return of Jesus. The bible prophecies Jesus' return at the second advent, and this is a well-established doctrine.

"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, "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).

These verses are part of the widely accepted 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 there will be a rapture of the church. They see this rapture as a hidden event that happens before Jesus returns. He doesn't appear to the world, but instead he snatches believers out of the world. According to rapture doctrine, the world will be baffled as millions of believers suddenly disappear.

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

In 2nd Thessalonians 2 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 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, there will be no gathering to Jesus until after 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).

This season of deception is also described in the gospels, "For false christs and false prophets will rise up. And they will give great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I tell you beforehand. Then if they say to you, Behold, He is in the wilderness; do not go out. Behold, He is in the inner rooms; do not believe" (Matthew 24:24-26 LITV bible).

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 season of the Antichrist is a time when believers will be tempted with signs and wonders. Then after this time of testing the faithful will be gathered home.

The rapture is part of the Resurrection of the Dead.

Christ's return to earth will be a cataclysmic event that fulfills many prophecies. One of these esoteric 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.

A pretribulation rapture is not the return of Jesus.

People who believe in a pretribulation rapture interpret 1st Thessalonians 4 as a unique event. They believe 1st Thessalonians 4 describes believers being taken to heaven, not gathering to Jesus at his return. They believe it's a separate event that takes them out of the world before the tribulation, and before Jesus' return.

What is a post-tribulation rapture?

As part of the controversy, there are different versions of the rapture doctrine. According to the post-tribulation theory, the rapture is part of the second advent. There will be a rapture of the church, but it doesn't happen until Jesus' return.

According to post-tribulation rapture doctrine, the event will take place after the tribulation of the Antichrist. In the post-tribulation rapture, believers aren't secretly taken out of the world, but meet the Lord as he returns. Instead of disappearing into heaven, believers reign with him during the millennium. The post-tribulation rapture is more like a gathering than a disappearance.

In the post-tribulation rapture there is also a resurrection of the "dead in Christ". Believers who are alive in the world and believers who have passed away are united with Jesus as the eternal bride. The full church will be gathered both physically and spiritually to him at his return.

Post-tribulation rapture can be understood as a compromise. It recognizes that there will be a literal rapture-like event as described in 1st Thessalonians 4. However it understands the event in the context of Jesus' return. A post-tribulation rapture is not a hidden rapture, but part of the second advent. A post-tribulation rapture successfully harmonizes 1st Thessalonians 4, 1st Corinthians 15, and many other passages.

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