The fourth mystery I want to examine in this series on The Seven Great Mysteries of the World is what has come to be known as The Mystery of the Rapture. This mystery is truly life-changing! The word Rapture comes from the Latin translation of the Greek word ἁρπαγησόμεθα, which is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. This word means “we shall be caught up” or “taken away”.
In the hope of alleviating their fears concerning believers who had already died, Paul taught the Thessalonians about the Rapture. He wrote:
And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring close to Himself those believers who have already died. We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet Him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words. (1 Thes 4:13-18)
The Rapture is the “catching up” in the clouds Paul mentions here. Paul is assuring them that God has a plan for all believers, even those who have already passed on; as opposed to the people who have no hope, those who are not part of God’s Kingdom. There are many people who would assure us that we have immortal souls, this false idea has led many nonbelievers to hope for an eternal existence beyond the grave. Because this concept is not a biblical teaching , this is a false hope; it does not come from the God who created the heavens and the earth.
The Bible teaches that unless we are given the gift of eternal life and are in Christ we have no hope of being part of God’s coming Eternal Kingdom. Mortal beings cannot inhabit God’s immortal Kingdom and we will remain mortal unless we are transformed at the Rapture. Paul gave further teaching about this mystery when he explained to the Corinthians:
But I tell you this brothers and sisters, our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. Take notice and let me reveal to you this mystery. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died in Christ will be raised to live with Him forever. And those believers who are alive at that time will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; we must be changed from mortal beings into immortal beings. When this corruptible body becomes incorruptible, and this mortal soul becomes immortal, then shall be brought to pass the word that was written, “Death was swallowed up in victory!” (1 Cor 15:50-54)
After this present creation passes away and our Father brings His newly restored heavens and earth into existence (Rev 21:1), death will be no more (1 Cor 15: 26; Rev 21:4). However, the Bible also teaches that those people who have not responded to the love of God and received the gift of eternal life from the Lord of Life, Jesus Christ, will perish (John 10:25-28).
In a plain reading of God’s Word we find that death came into God’s creation through the first Adam (Gen 2:17; 3:6) and was conquered by Jesus, the last Adam (John 10:17-18; Rom 5:17; 1 Cor 15:45-49). It is only through Jesus that we can expect to conquer death. Jesus was very clear – the default position for all of humanity is that we perish – we must accept His gracious gift of eternal life to avoid this destiny. As He said:
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)TLV
To realise the joyful expectation of spending eternity with the God who created the heavens and the earth, people must be changed by His unfathomable power into eternal beings. Inhabitants of God’s Eternal Kingdom must be immortal beings and at this point in time only God is immortal (1 Tim 6:16). But as Paul tells us, through The Mystery of the Rapture, we can all be changed into immortal beings (1 Cor 6:14).
When Jesus ascended to be with the Father, the disciples were told He would return (Act 1:9-11 see also Heb 9:28) and although The Mystery of the Rapture is not spelled out under this specific title in the Bible, the New Testament church certainly looked forward to the time when all believers would be transformed and taken up to be with the Lord Jesus Christ. When this event happens, even those believers who have already died will be part of this miraculous event.
We are in “the time of the end”
Unfortunately, the details of the Rapture are surrounded by a great deal of controversy in the church and in the world. There are many Christians who believe there must be further revelation and a more complete understanding given at the very end of the Church Age concerning this mystery. This idea is linked to the Book of Daniel; he was told:
But you, Daniel, keep this prophecy a secret; seal up the book until the time of the end, when many will rush here and there, and knowledge will increase. (Dan 12:4)NLT
There could never have been a time in the history of the world when people did more rushing “here and there”. We rush around our neighbourhoods, we rush around our cities and we rush around the world.
As for knowledge increasing, in my lifetime computers have so changed our ability to process, store and exchange knowledge, we have taken an exponential leap in this area. We are in “the time of the end”.
And what has our rushing here and there and our increased knowledge brought us? On one hand it has brought the Body of Christ an opportunity to spread the Good News throughout all the world (Mark 16:15). But sadly, it has not actually brought an increase in godly wisdom to humankind; the knowledge that has increased is worldly knowledge. People travel to increase their knowledge of human culture, as they systematically undermine a worldwide culture, which was once based on a belief in the God who has revealed Himself to us through His Son.
This great falling away from our Christian roots, which was foretold in the Bible (2 Thes 2:3), is yet another clear indicator of our place on the end-times calendar (I have already covered this topic in more detail in an earlier post titled The Still Point).
You Look But Never See
Our spectacularly increased range of human knowledge has also given us the ability to minutely examine God’s magnificent creation. Yet many people fail to “see” His handiwork in its intricate and complex design and construction (Rom 1:20). This is not a new phenomenon, but it has re-emerged with vigour in the last 50 years. As godless academics and media magnates swamp us with their naturalist/materialist version of reality, they fail to “see” the Greater Reality. Jesus said of this blindness:
And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘You will keep on hearing but will never understand; you will keep looking, but will never see. For the heart of this people has become dull, their ears can barely hear, and they have shut their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts. Then they would turn back, and I would heal them.’ (Mat 13:14-15)TLV
Rather than opening people’s eyes to the truth, the increase in travel and knowledge has simply revealed how close we are to the time when our Father will call an end to our rebellion towards Him. In a letter to Timothy, Paul warned:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in the end-times some people will depart from the truth, giving heed to seductive, deceiving spirits, and doctrines of demons. (1Ti 4:1)
Only powerful, demonic forces could brainwash millions of intelligent people into believing the theory of evolution and its plethora of far fetched, unsubstantiated just-so stories. Even people who claim to believe in God’s Word have been seduced into accepting the pseudo-scientific fables that are sent out on the airwaves daily. These otherwise rational people, who claim to require empirical evidence as a basis for their beliefs, cannot “see” the flaws in their doctrine. They refuse to question their strongly held faith in this theory of origins, when there is no evidence to support one of its main pillars.
A person with their eyes (and mind) open, could not fail to see that one created “kind” has never been observed mutating into another “kind” – reptiles do not become birds, fish do not become fishermen. Instead, what we actually observe is that adaptation and speciation are designed for purpose, God-given attributes, enabling His created kinds to adapt to a wide variety of different environments.
Natural selection was not Darwin’s idea; it is God’s mechanism for creating variety within kinds. After observing the intricate complexity of a single cell or the overwhelmingly sophisticated construction and function of the human brain, no thinking person could truly believe that the myriad of living organisms in the world around us is simply the product of random chance and purely hypothetical mutations being acted upon by this cleverly engineered attribute, which in and of itself is also the product of random chance.
The fact that this demonic, anti-creation/anti-Creator myth has taken such a strong hold on our culture is yet another of the many indicators of our place on the prophetic calendar. Jesus likened this time to the commencement of labour pains (Mat 24:8). As with contractions, the end-times signs will become even more intense as the time for delivery/Rapture draws near (Mat 24:3-15).
Unraveling the Mystery of the Rapture
The Book of Daniel is an important place to start when considering end-times biblical teachings. Jesus referred to the book of Daniel (Mat 24:15) when discussing the end-times, which could be seen as indicating to His disciples that Daniel is indeed the key to an understanding of end-times prophecy. Just after mentioning Daniel, Jesus warned His followers about a Great Tribulation that would come upon the world in the end of days. He said:
For then there will be Great Tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. (Matthew 24:21-22)
The Great Tribulation is also mentioned in the Revelation:
….. These are they which came out of Great Tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Rev 7:14b)
As more people turn their attention to studying end-times prophecies, it would appear the Father is indeed opening the seal on the end-times secrets (Dan 12:4). Over the last few decades many believers have come to accept the concept of the Great Tribulation being the final seven year period of the premillennial world.
This period was calculated from the vision given by the angel Gabriel to Daniel concerning 70 weeks of years (Dan 9:24-27). While others have entirely different views on the duration of the Great Tribulation and the fulfilment of the many end-times prophecies, this approach to Daniel’s 70 weeks is very convincing. However, to examine the Great Tribulation we must look more closely at the Book of the Revelation.
What is The Book of the Revelation all about?
A plain reading of the Revelation would lead one to believe that this book is a detailed account of the Creator’s final judgment and the outpouring of His wrath upon the evil that has been done to His creation and the evil doers who perpetrated that evil. God has clearly warned humanity that there will be a Day of Judgment (Rom 14:10; 1 Cor 4:5; Heb 9:27; Rev 20:11-15). This is partly what the Great Tribulation is all about; the other important reason for the Great Tribulation is the concerted, final effort God will make to harvest souls for His eternal Kingdom (Mat 24:14; Rev 14:6) before He calls an end to sin and suffering (Rev 21:4).
God’s concurrent works of love and judgment are laid out chronologically in the Revelation God gave to John. While the breathtaking love of God is vividly expressed through the redemptive work of His Son, another of Jesus’ works, the final judgment (John 5:22), must also be taken into account. The First Coming of the Son of God to the earth brought love and forgiveness for those who repent of their rebellion and accept His offer of eternal life. However, the Revelation is the frightening warning concerning God’s inevitable, future, final judgement on the people who refuse God’s gracious gift when He comes again. There we find:
For the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev 6:17)TLV
The nations were filled with wrath, but now the time of Your wrath has come. It is time to judge the dead and reward Your servants the prophets, as well as Your holy people, and all who fear Your name, from the least to the greatest. It is time to destroy all who have caused destruction on the earth. (Rev 11:18)NLT
Then I saw in heaven another marvelous event of great significance. Seven angels were holding the seven last plagues, which would bring God’s wrath to completion. (Rev 15:1)NLT
As noted earlier there is much debate about how the end-times will play out. Biblical scholars have spent hundreds of thousands of hours examining scripture to find the truth and harmony between the many relevant passages. Consequently, a number of systematic interpretations of these passages have been formulated over the years and one of the main areas of eschatological disagreement amongst Christians today is the timing of the Rapture in relation to the Great Tribulation.
Four Main Approaches to the Rapture
For those who believe in a literal Rapture the main point of contention is where the saints are placed during the final outpouring of God’s wrath upon the earth. This has led to four main schools of thought concerning the timing of the Rapture. These are:
The Pre-tribulation Rapture, which sees the catching away happening sometime prior to the beginning of the seven year Great Tribulation period (Mat 24:21; Rev 2:22; 7:14). In this scenario it is generally accepted that the seven year period begins with the signing of a peace pact between Israel and the antichrist (Dan 9:27). People who hold to the Pre-tribulation Rapture trust God to deliver them from wrath and the evil one (Mat 6:13). Consequently they:
…. await His Son from Heaven, whom He raised from the dead, Jesus, the One delivering us from the coming wrath. (1 Thes 1:10)
Romans 5:9 also mentions believers being saved from wrath and as the Book of the Revelation is generally viewed as the account of the outpouring of God’s wrath, which culminates in His final judgment upon the earth, this group believe the church will be caught up before this time of wrath begins. They also cite the scripture:
Because you have obeyed my command to endure, I will keep you safe during the time of testing which is coming to the whole world to test those living on Earth. (Rev 3:10)
This verse assures believers that Jesus will keep them safe “during the time of testing”. Those who subscribe to the Pre-tribulation Rapture refer to the examples of Noah and Lot and their respective families; pointing out that these godly people were not simply kept safe “during”, but were completely removed from, the devastation being wrought on the earth throughout the past two great events of God’s judgement on fallen humanity.
In both these devastating judgments, the people of God were taken out and kept safely away from the catastrophic circumstances surrounding the Great Flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Following closely after the Revelation 3:10 verse we find the invitation given to John to “Come up here!” (Rev 4:1). Pre-tribulationists believe this is the point at which the church will be raptured in the Revelation narrative.
They divide the return of Christ into:
- An initial gathering of the saints at the Rapture (1 Thes 4:13-18; 1 Cor 15: 50-54; Rev 4:1)
- a seven year period of Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:21-22; Rev 6-18)
- a very public Second Coming (Rev 19:11-16)
- the millennial reign of the Lord Jesus Christ (Rev 20:1-7)
- entry into the new creation (Rev 21:1-7).
The Mid-tribulation Rapture is the next view; it holds that the catching away occurs in the middle, or three and a half years into the seven year period. Those who subscribe to the Mid-tribulation Rapture emphasise the sharp division in time mentioned in the major eschatological passages concerning the seven years of tribulation.
The Mid-tribulation view divides the Great Tribulation into two periods of 1260 days each (from Daniel 9:27 and Daniel 12:7) and sees the Rapture of the church occurring at the mid-point between these two halves. They describe the first half of the seven year tribulation period as the wrath of man, and the last half as the wrath of God, or the Great Tribulation. Thus the church will be subject to tribulation during the first half (John 16:33), even though it has no part in the last half of the 70th week.
Mid-tribulationists view the seventh trumpet of Revelation 11:15 and the last trumpet of 1 Corinthians 15:52 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16 as the same thing. Therefore, they usually place the Rapture in Revelation 14, after the statue (Rev 13:14) and mark of the beast (Rev 13:16).
Many writers have examined the trumpets mentioned throughout the Bible and it appears there is enough material on the subject to fill a book. Pointing to OT practices to support their claims, those who disagree with the mid-tribulation view claim the last trumpet (1 Cor 15:52) and the seventh trumpet (Rev 11:15) are definitely different trumpets, which are sounded at different times.
Therefore they see no need for a mid-point rapture.
The Pre-wrath Rapture, sees the Coming of the Lord, and the Day of the Lord as the same event. They also view the Rapture of the saints and the return of the Lord as concurrent events, which take place sometime after the opening of the sixth seal (Rev 6:12) and before the return of Christ with the saints (Rev 19:11-16).
According to this view the saints are raptured just before the wrath of God is poured out after the sixth seal. The pre-wrath rapture is placed at an unspecified time after the midpoint but before the end of the 70th Week.
The Post-tribulation Rapture sees the catching away happening at the end of, or very shortly after the Great Tribulation, which is not necessarily viewed as a seven year period. This view sees a single Second Coming of Christ and dismisses the idea of an earlier Rapture. According to this view the church will suffer tribulation, but will be kept by God’s grace while it continues on Earth throughout all of the Great Tribulation. After this the saints will be given their glorified bodies in order to meet Christ as He comes to Earth to defeat the antichrist at Armageddon and establish His millennial reign in Jerusalem.
Post-tribulationists believe the church will be persecuted by the antichrist, but that believers will be protected from God’s wrath as they are kept from the hour of trial mentioned in Revelation 3:10. In support of their claims post-tribulationists cite Ireneaus and Hippolytus, two early church fathers, as writing from a post-tribulation perspective.
I must confess I find the Pre-tribulation view the most convincing when seeking to find harmony between the many biblical verses and passages relating to this topic. One of the reasons I find this the most likely scenario is that from chapters 4 through to 19, where all of the catastrophic occurrences are described, there is no mention of the church. The words “church” and “churches” occur 22 times in the first three chapters of Revelation (1:3, 4, 11, 20 [twice]; 2:1, 5, 7, 8, 11, 12, 17, 18, 23, 29; 3:1, 4, 6, 7, 13, 14, 22), but are completely absent after John’s call to “Come up here”. In other words, the church does not appear to be part of the era when God pours out His wrath upon the Earth. In answer to their prayers, the church will have escaped (Luke 21:36).
As the church is significantly absent from chapters 4 through to 19, it seems reasonable to propose that when the call to “Come Up Here” is sounded from heaven, it is a call to the church, through her earthly representative, early in the Revelation narrative.
Along with millions of other believers, I await the unfolding of The Mystery of the Rapture at the return of my Lord. He will catch up the Body of Christ and we will be with the Lord forever in our newly transformed bodies (John 14:1-3; 1 Thes 4:16-17). It would appear there is good reason to believe that, just like Noah and His family, we will enter the safe place God has prepared for us (John 14:1-3) away from the Great Tribulation. He will indeed keep us “from the time of trial” (Rev 3:10).
Until that time arrives I can only hope and pray that many, many more people will hear and understand the gospel and turn to the Lord of Life that they might also be part of the body of believers who have this wonderful expectation. But Peter has warned us:
….. scoffers will come in the last days following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the ancestors fell asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.”
They deliberately overlook the fact that the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water. Then through water, by the Word of God, the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same Word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the Day of Judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
Also do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:3-9)