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I Corinthians 2:5- "That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God."
 
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The Timing of the Rapture of the Church

copyright by Arthur Manning, 2002


Introduction



The rapture of the Church is an expression referring to the biblically prophesied future event in which all living believers in Christ will be instantaneously glorified and transported to His presence. This is preceded by the resurrection of the believers in Christ who have died. This is described in I Thessalonians 4:13-18: "(13)But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.(14)For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.(15)For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.(16)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:(17)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.(18)Wherefore comfort one another with these words." The term "asleep" refers to the condition of Christians after death. This is clearly indicated by the expression "dead in Christ" used in verse 16. In the Gospel of John, chapter eleven, Christ referred to the death of His friend, Lazarus, as "sleep" (see John 11: 11-14). A closer look at I Thes. 4: 13-18 reveals some amazing statements. Verse 16 tells us that the dead in Christ shall rise, which is an integral part of the gospel ("good news"). Verse 17 tells us that after the resurrection of dead Christians those who are still alive will 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." Many Christians refer to this event as the "rapture of the Church", although the term "rapture" is not found in the Bible. I Corinthians 15: 50-53 also describes the rapture: "(50)Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.(51)Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, (52)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.(53)For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." Verse 52 tells us that the rapture shall happen suddenly, "...In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye...". Verse 53 declares that when it happens our mortal bodies will be changed into immortal bodies. These new bodies are further described as incorruptible in verse 42, glorious in verse 43, powerful in verse 43, and spiritual in verse 44. I John 3:2 mentions that "...when he shall appear, we shall be like him...". So we have more than the above adjectives to tell us what form we believers shall one day obtain. We can read the gospel accounts of Christ after His resurrection to see an example of what our bodies shall be like. In Mark 16:12 we are told that the resurrected Christ appeared "... in another form unto two of them...". This was after He had appeared to Mary Magdalene (verse 9). So the resurrected Christ can apparently appear in different forms. If we will be "like Him" it is not unreasonable to deduce that we also will have this ability. I suppose that we will have the capability of appearing in any form we wish. So many of us have aspects of our mortal bodies that we would not desire to have in a permanent state. Some of us are missing body parts or have parts which are deformed or do not function properly or, in some cases, do not function at all. I believe that we will be able to present ourselves as we look today, or as we looked at the prime of our life, or as we would have looked if we had never suffered a disease, injury, or mutation. I further believe that not only could a ninety year old "raptured" saint appear as he looked at the age of twenty, but a nine year old "raptured" saint could appear as he would have looked at the age of twenty. We could conceivably change appearances as we change clothes nowadays. Perhaps I could be in a 250 pound muscular body with straight black hair one day and the next day be in a 125 pound slim body with curly red hair. Another account of Christís resurrected body is in Luke 24:31, where we are told that He "...vanished out of their sight." Apparently our raptured bodies will not be subject to physical limitations. But neither will we be like a vapor. We will have substance as exemplified by our Lordís eating some food (Luke 24: 41-43). I suppose that just as Philip (Acts 8:39-40) was instantly caused to disappear from one place and to reappear in another, so we will have the same ability (also see John 6:19-21 where a whole ship and passengers were apparently instantly transported from the midst of the sea to the shore). I imagine that resurrected saints ruling the world with the Lord (Rev. 5:10) will be able to instantly transport themselves to Jerusalem at any appropriate time to worship Him.

A major question among Christians is when will this rapture take place. First of all, the rapture is associated with Christís glorious return to earth. In I Thes. 4:16 and 17 we read that "... the Lord himself shall descend from heaven...and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air...". But the time of Christís return is , according to Him, not revealed to us (Matthew 24:36: "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no not the angels of heaven, but my father only.").However, according to Hebrews 10:25, we can "..see the day approaching." This is because of the presence in todayís world of conditions which the Bible tells us will be prevalent shortly before Christís return. One of those conditions is in the moral realm. I Timothy 4:1-3 describes the moral conditions in the end times in strongly negative terms. Christ Jesus also prophesied immoral conditions in Matthew 24:9-12. But someone may claim that there have always been immoral conditions in human history, yet Christ has still not returned. However, there are three other biblically prophesied end-time conditions which can not be claimed to have always been in existence. They are, first , the gospel being preached in all the world; second, the building up of Israel; and third, the increase of knowledge and transportation. The first of these was prophesied by Christ in Matthew 24:14, "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come." A great increase in the sending of missionaries to Africa and Asia did not take place until the 1800's. This was accelerated to even more remote groups in the 1900's. There are still some places that the gospel has not yet reached, but they are very few compared to the many places it has spread in recent years, especially in Africa, Asia, and South America.

The second of these is found in Psalm 102:16, "When the LORD shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory." Mount Zion is in Jerusalem, the historic capital of Israel. Israel was devastated in 70 AD and did not become a nation again until 1948. Since then the nation of Israel has been, indeed, built up.

The third of these is the prophecy in Daniel 12:4, "... to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased." For about two thousand years after this prophecy transportation and knowledge slowly increased; but in the last century the increase has been so rapid and explosive that if the increase were to be graphed it would, indisputably, show a long very gradual line, not much steeper than horizontal, suddenly curve upward to almost vertical.

The above three conditions could not have been said to be prevalent until recent times, indicating that Christís return is approaching soon. There are other signs, as well; but these three by themselves should be convincing enough.

Associated with the time of Christís return and the rapture of the Church is a period of time referred to in Matthew 24:21: "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be." A major controversy within todayís Church is in regard to the time of the rapture in relation to this "great tribulation". Three major views are that (1) the rapture occurs before the tribulation (called the pre-tribulation rapture), (2) the rapture occurs during the tribulation (the mid-tribulation rapture), and (3) the rapture occurs after the tribulation (the post-tribulation rapture). Will the Church go through none of, some of, or all of the tribulation? Something to keep in mind for a healthy perspective is that Christians have suffered all through the ages. We can read in the New Testament about Stephenís and Jamesí martyrdom and the persecutions endured by Peter and Paul. Many Christians suffered severely in the first two hundred years after Christ and many have suffered severely in the last one hundred years. Even if the Church does not go though the "great tribulation", any one of us may experience severe suffering, perhaps even unto death. So we need to be strengthening ourselves in the faith, for we know not what the future holds. On the other hand, even if the Church does go through the "great tribulation", any one of us may not experience that event, but die suddenly at any moment, with little or no suffering. So we need to be ready to meet the Lord today, because even if the Church is not raptured today, some of us will indeed meet Him today. So regardless of what happens to the whole Church, each one of us should be ready to meet the Lord today and willing to suffer for His nameís sake, if necessary.

Instead of presenting the case for each of the three views, the relevant scriptures will be considered in an attempt to see which view seems to fit the best. There are many true Christians who adhere to each of these views and none of these views is in conflict with the main truths of the gospel, such as we find stated in, for example, the Apostlesí Creed. Oneís view of the rapture does not determine whether or not one will experience it. This is determined by oneís spiritual condition (being a true believer in Christ), not oneís doctrinal position regarding the timing of the rapture. There are many scriptural references to the "rapture". Rather than examining all of them, an attempt is here made to examine only those which give any indication of the timing of the event. We will look at the pertinent New Testament scriptures in order, from Matthew to Revelation.

Matthew

In Matthew, chapter 24, Christ teaches about end time happenings. He warns of false Christs, wars and rumors of wars; but adds that these things precede the end. Since the time of this prophecy there has been a continual fulfillment of it throughout the last two thousand years. Our Lord continues by prophesying wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. These events He calls the "beginning of sorrows." Then He warns of persecution and martyrdom for His people. Then He foretells betrayals and deceptive false prophets. Finally, Christ announces that, in spite of all this opposition, the gospel shall be proclaimed in all the world, "... and then shall the end come" (verse 14). If the church can survive persecutions and martyrdoms before the end, then we should not fear if it turns out that the Church must endure the "great tribulation". Christ has promised that He will never leave us; and the Apostle Paul assures us that no type or degree of suffering can "...separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans8:39).

Next (Matthew 24:15), our Lord proceeds to describe end time events. He first refers to the "abomination of desolation" foretold by the Old Testament prophet, Daniel. What is this "abomination of desolation"? According to Daniel 11:31, the daily sacrifice shall be stopped and the abomination of desolation shall be set up. Coupling this with our Lordís statement in Matthew 24:15 that the abomination of desolation will stand in the holy place, it is safe to conclude that the Jews will be making daily sacrifices as they did in ancient times; but this practice will be stopped and some sort of unholy object shall be put into the holy place. Perhaps this will be the "image of the beast" referred to in Revelation 13: 14, 15.

According to Daniel 9:27, this "abomination of desolation" shall take place "...in the midst of the week..." What does this phrase, "...in the midst of the week...", mean? If this "week" is interpreted to be a period of time equal to seven years, rather than seven days, it fits in extremely well with other pertinent passages in Daniel and also in Revelation. If a week is seven years, then the midst of the week occurs at the three and one-half year point. This is consistent with the statement in Revelation 11:2 telling us that the gentiles will tread down Jerusalem for 42 months (equal to three and one-half years), and also with Revelation 13:4, 5 which tell us that "...the beast will have authority for 42 months (three and one-half years).

Continuing on in Matthew 24, we come to verse 21, which tells us that "...then shall be great tribulation...". When shall this tribulation come? In the context, it must refer back to verse 15, "When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation...."So since the great tribulation occurs when the abomination of desolation is set up, it must begin three and one-half years into the last seven years. Some Bible students speak of a seven year tribulation, but Christ tells us that the tribulation begins at the time of the abomination of desolation which is three and one-half years into the last seven years. Pre-tribulation rapture proponents usually believe that the rapture occurs at the beginning of the last seven years. Mid-tribulation rapture proponents usually believe that the rapture will take place in the middle of the last seven years, which is when the tribulation actually begins. So, we see that the pre-tribulation rapture actually would occur three and one-half years before the tribulation and the mid-tribulation rapture would actually occur before the tribulation. So we see that the mid-tribulation rapture view is actually another variety of pre-tribulation rapture view. Up to Matthew 24:21 (where the great tribulation is first mentioned) we find no reference to the "rapture" occurring. So up to this point we find no evidence in this passage for a "pre-tribulation" or a "mid-tribulation" rapture. Verses 22 through 26 give more details about this time; but, again, contain no reference to the "rapture". Verse 27 describes Christís glorious coming. Verses 29 through 31 give more details regarding Christís return. In verse 29 we find a reference to the timing of His return: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days...." This verse also describes astronomical events coinciding with our Lordís return.These events include the sun and moon being darkened, stars falling, and powers being shaken. This same event is described in Revelation 6:12-17 and is called the wrath of the Lamb. Therefore, in Matthew 24 we see that "...immediately after the tribulation..."(verse 29) comes the wrath of God and the gathering together of Christís saints (verse 31). Some Bible students consider the tribulation and the wrath to be the same event. However, this cannot be since one comes after the other. In addition, the Greek terms for tribulation and wrath have different meanings. It is certain that Christians will not experience Godís wrath. This is clearly stated in Romans 5:9, I Thessalonians 1:10, and I Thessalonians 5:9. However, there are no scriptures stating that Christians will not experience tribulation. In fact, several passages mention Christians experiencing tribulation (e.g. John 16:33, Acts 14:22, Romans 12:12, II Corinthians 1:4, Revelation 1:9, etc.).The Greek word for tribulation used in these passages is the same that is used in Matthew 24, verses 21 and 29.

The end-time wrath of God is a specific, future event. God has poured out His wrath before, such as at Noahís Flood, on Sodom, and on Jerusalem (Luke 21:23 uses the Greek term, "orge", to describe this destruction. This is the same term that is associated with the specific, future event which is referred to in passages such as I Thessalonians 1:10 - the wrath to come that Godís people have been delivered from). To support the claim that the "wrath to come" is a specific event, we can examine several scriptures. In Revelation 6:16, 17 it is described under the section dealing with the sixth seal. It includes a great earthquake, the sun and moon being darkened, stars falling, the heaven departing as a scroll, and every mountain and island being moved. In Revelation 11:18 Godís end-time wrath comes at the sounding of the seventh trumpet and includes the worldís kingdoms becoming Christís kingdom, the judgment of the dead, and rewards to prophets and saints. In Revelation 14:10 Godís end-time wrath is described further as a time when Godís enemies who received the "mark of the beast" experience Godís wrath and are tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of Godís angels and Christ. In Revelation 15:1, 15:7, and 16:1 we see that Godís wrath consists of seven last plagues. Finally, in Rev. 10:11-15 we see Godís wrath taking place at Christís return. We can now see that the events described in Matthew as occurring "...immediately after the tribulation of those days..." (Sun and moon darkened, stars falling, Christ returning ) are all part of the wrath of God from which Godís people have been delivered. However, what Godís people have been delivered from occurs "...immediately after the tribulation..." (Matthew 24:29).

Matthew 24:30 describes Christís actual, glorious return "...in the clouds of heaven...", visible to all tribes. Verse 31 continues with a description of Christ gathering His elect with a trumpet call. Notice that this gathering and trumpet call occur, according to verse 29, "...immediately after the tribulation...." I Thessalonians 4:16 describes the rapture and mentions that it will happen with a trumpet call. In addition, I Corinthians 15:52, in referring to the rapture, also includes mention of it happening with a trumpet call. This passage states that this is the last trump. If the rapture takes place at the last trumpet call and also before the tribulation, then how can there be another trumpet call "...immediately after the tribulation..." (Matthew 24:29-31)? Since the rapture occurs at the last trumpet call and there is a trumpet call after the tribulation, then it is obvious that the rapture must occur after the tribulation. This is a strong argument from logic. However, any deduction from scripture, no matter how logical, is in error if it is contradicted by a direct statement in the scriptures. Are there any direct statements clearly declaring that the rapture precedes the tribulation? We shall continue to examine more passages in an effort to answer that question.

Matthew 24:31, as has already been mentioned, also states that Christís elect shall be gathered together at the sound of the trumpet when He returns in glory (verse 30) after the tribulation (verse 29). In II Thessalonians 2:1 Paul tells of Christís return and "...our gathering together unto him." This sounds very much like the same event prophesied in Matthew 24:30, 31. Since this Matthew 24 "coming" and "gathering" occur after the tribulation, then it is reasonable to conclude that the I Thessalonians 2 "coming" and "gathering" also occur after the tribulation.

Continuing on in Matthew 24:32-35, Christ makes some further statements about His coming indicating that there will be warning signs of its approach and declaring the certainty of His return. Then in verse 36 He tells us that no one but the Father knows the actual day and hour of His return. So, though we may be able to discern when Christís return is soon approaching, we do not know the exact time. Our Lord says in verse 36, "But of that day and hour knoweth no man...." In the context, the day and hour to which He is referring must be His coming and the gathering of His elect (verses 30 and 31) , which occurs after the tribulation (verse 29).

Some Bible students claim that verse 36 refers to a pre-tribulation rapture, yet Christ states "that" day, indicating a day of which He had just previously spoken. He had just spoken of His post-tribulation return. Some claim that verse 36 must refer to an imminent pre-tribulation rapture since once the tribulation begins we could calculate the day of Christís return and that would contradict Christís statement in verse 36 that no one knows the day. This seems logical; but, as was previously stated, in biblical interpretation, logical conclusions are in error if they contradict clear statements. The clear statement in the context of Matthew chapter 24 is that "that day" in verse 36 must refer to the events in verses 29 through 31. There is no mention in Matthew 24 of any rapture occurring before the tribulation, first mentioned in verse 21. Therefore it is the day of Christís return and the gathering of the elect which is unknown, even though it apparently takes place three and one-half years after the abomination of desolation. Perhaps the reason that the exact day and hour are unknown is that, according to Matthew 24:21, 22, the days of the great tribulation shall be shortened. So perhaps Christ shall come some time before the end of the last three and one half years. But when He does come it will be the end of the tribulation and the time of the wrath of God.

The last three and one-half years is apparently the same as the 42 months (12 months per year x 3.5 years = 42 months) referred to in Rev.11:2 and 13:5, as well as the 1260 days (30 days per month x 42 months = 1260days) referred to in Revelation 11:3 and 12:6. So will Christís coming occur 1260 days after the abomination of desolation and therefore be predictable, contrary to Matthew 24:36? It is interesting to note that in Daniel 12:11 we are told that after the abomination of desolation there will be 1290 days. Then in verse 12 we are told, "Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days." So will Christ come 1,260 days, 1290days, or 1335 days after the abomination? "But of that day and hour knoweth no man." (Matthew 24:36).

In Matthew 24:37-39 Jesus compares "...the coming of the Son of man..." (His coming) with the days of Noah in which the devastating Flood suddenly and unexpectedly destroyed all of mankind except for Noah and his family. When our Lord talks about His coming in verse 37 it is in reference to the unexpected event referred to in verse 36 since He prefaces verse 37 with the conjunction, "...but...." Therefore, since in verse 36 "...that day..." refers to the post-tribulation coming of the Son of man in verses 29-30, verse 37 must also refer to the post-tribulation coming of the Son of man. In addition, Christís description of Noahís Flood emphasizes the unexpected nature of the event. It is clear that verses 37-39, describing Noahís Flood, are a biblical illustration of His point in verse 36. Since verse 36 refers to Christís post-tribulation coming in verses 29-30, so must verses 37-39. Noah and his family were rescued just prior to Godís wrath on unexpecting sinners. Is this not an illustration of verses 29 through 31 in which Godís elect are gathered after the tribulation, but in order to be saved from His wrath?

Some may claim that since the Greek term for coming used in Matthew 24:30 is different from that used in verses 37 and 39, therefore these are two separate events - the former referring to Christís return, and the latter to His pre-tribulation appearance to rapture His elect. The former term, "erchomai", is used, according to Strong, to signify "come or go, in a great variety of applications, literal and figurative." The latter term, "parousia", refers to a "being near, i.e., advent, presence," according to Strong. "Erchomai"is used in Matthew 24:30 for Christís post-tribulation coming. However, "parousia" is also used for a post-tribulation event. This occurs in II Thessalonians. 2:8 where we are told that the Lord shall destroy "...that Wicked..." "...with the brightness of his coming ("parousia")." Verse nine goes on to describe "...the Wicked...." This is undoubtedly the beast, more popularly called the antichrist ( see I John 2:18). The beast, along with a false prophet, are spoken of in Revelation chapter 13. Both of these individuals will not be destroyed until Christ returns, executing the wrath of God (cf. Rev. 10:11-20), so there is no way that this usage of "parousia" for the destruction of "that Wicked" can be considered to refer to an event at the beginning or at the middle of the last seven years. Since "parousia" definitely refers to a post-tribulation event in II Thessalonians 2:8, there is no reason why it cannot also refer to a post-tribulation event in Matthew 24:37 and 39. Besides, the context of verses 37 and 39 strongly indicate that Christís coming therein described refers to His post-tribulation coming described in verses 29-30, as has already been discussed. In addition, in Matthew 24: 36 and 37 our Lord tells us that no one, but the Father, knows the day and hour of the "parousia". Then in verse 42 He tells us that we do not know the day of the "erchomai". So, apparently the two Greek terms are used interchangeably and are therefore practically synonymous. Further support for this is the fact that practically every translation renders both terms in Matthew 24 as some form of the same English word, come.

Matthew 24:40 and 41 describe how at Christís coming some people shall be taken, while others shall be left. This event is frequently said to be a description of the rapture. These verses begin with the word "then", meaning "at that time", connecting them to the previous verses which, as has already been shown, describe post-tribulation happenings. In the remainder of the verses in Matthew 24 (42-51) Christ exhorts us to be watchful since we do not know the time of His coming. In addition, chapter 25 deals with end time events but gives no indication of the timing.

Mark

In Mark, chapter 13, we find another account of Jesusí discourse recorded in Matthew chapter 24. It is almost identical to the formerly discussed passage. One difference, however, is that in Matthew 24:31 the elect are said to be gathered (after the tribulation - see verse 29) "...from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other"; whereas in Mark 13:37 the elect are said to be gathered "...from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven."Someone may claim that in Matthew 24 the rapture had already taken place before the tribulation (even though there is no mention of such an event in that chapter), and that verse 31 refers to the elect being gathered together from different parts of heaven. However, verses 36, 40, and 41, which are usually said to refer to the rapture, refer to the previously mentioned post-tribulation coming and gathering (verses 29-31) as has already been discussed. In addition, Mark 13:27 shows that this post-tribulation gathering is not just of the elect in heaven, but also includes the elect on earth. This strongly compares to the rapture described in I Thessalonians 4:16, 17 when "...the dead in Christ shall rise first..." (since the dead in Christ are with Him in heaven this could be a description of the gathering of the elect from the uttermost part of heaven) ":then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air..." (This would be a description of gathering the elect from the uttermost part of the earth). So Mark 13:27 gives an even stronger case for a post-tribulation rapture than does Matthew 24:31, effectively eliminating the above-described attempt to have the latter verse refer to only a gathering together of the previously raptured elect.

In Mark 13:37, the last verse of this account of Christís discourse, He declares, "And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch." This verse addresses not just the apostles present at the time, but apparently even us as well. So we are to watch. Why should we watch? Verse 33 answers this question: Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is." What time is He here referring to? Obviously, the day and hour mentioned in the previous verse. And what day and hour are they? In the context, the post-tribulation gathering and coming of the Lord (verses 24-26). Why should we be watching for post-tribulation events if we are to be raptured before the tribulation?

The Timing of the Rapture of the Church continued


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