cup of wrath

Will there be a Rapture of the Church?

The controversy around rapture seems to never end. Will there be a rapture of the church before the tribulation?

Some leaders are very much against the idea of a pretribulation rapture, others don't teach much of anything except rapture, building their theologies around it. Rapture is a touchy subject, and there are a multitude of opinions about it.

One of the difficulties in addressing the issue of rapture is that it is intertwined with alot of broader subjects. 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 all affect the reasons that one either accepts or rejects the rapture doctrine. As a premillennialist (see ch.20 Resurrection at Christ's Return), who believes in the literal return of Jesus Christ at the end of the seven year tribulation period, the following is a simple opinion on rapture.

First, we should consider that the bible describes that Christ will return to earth at the second advent, and nowhere does it 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). As Christians, we are all awaiting the second coming 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 New Testament instruct us as Christians to be expectant and hopeful for his appearance, as in the case of 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). Nowhere does it tell us to be hopeful and expectant for a rapture of the church, in which Christians are supernaturally taken out of the world to be with Christ in heaven.

The main passages used to support rapture are actually about the first resurrection.

Christ's return to earth will be a cataclysmic event that is the fulfillment of many bible prophecies. One important event that will take place immediately at Christ's return is the first resurrection of the dead, "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). Christ will return at the last trumpet, which is the seventh trumpet, and at his appearance, the saints (both living and dead) will all be changed into incorruptible bodies (see ch.15 Bodies of the Resurrection).

Part of this resurrection process involves believers being literally gathered to Christ as he is returning to earth, "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). It is this gathering of believers to the Lord, as he is returning, that is often misinterpreted as proof of a coming rapture.

So the gathering of Christians to Christ in the air is a real event, but it is actually describing the first resurrection of the dead, not a pretrib rapture event. This gathering of believers in the first resurrection is the subject of the famous "rapture passage" of 1st Thessalonians 4.13-17, "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him...For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first" (1st Thessalonians 4.14,16 KJV bible). At the last trumpet, which is at the end of the tribulation, the Lord will descend, and the dead in Christ will spiritually "rise first". Then the scripture goes on to tell us what will happen to the believers who are still alive on earth at this time, "Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1st Thessalonians 4.17 KJV bible). The Christians who remain in the flesh will then meet the Lord in the air, leaving behind their earthly lives. So we come to understand that the real subject of 1st Thessalonians 4.13-17 is the first resurrection of the dead, when believers (both alive and in heaven) will be transformed spiritually and eternally united with Christ (see also ch.21 1st Thessalonians 4).

There are several versions of the rapture doctrine, and one version of rapture is very close to the meaning of the first resurrection. According to the post-tribulation rapture theory, the rapture takes place at the end of the tribulation, and is related to Christ's return. It basically comes down to semantics as to whether one wants to call the gathering of the saints at Christ's return a rapture or not.

For some the term rapture is a bit misleading, because believers won't actually be 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 throughout the millennium. Also, its important not to reduce the first resurrection of the dead, and all that it encompasses, to a simple rapture-like event. The first resurrection of the dead involves the transformation of believers into spiritual bodies, and 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 (see also ch.15 Bodies of the Resurrection).

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