September 6, 2015
I briefly touched on the subject of today's message in last Sunday's sermon. It is a subject that was previously 'avoided' in this church - I was told because it is something that arouses too much fear. And yet it should do just the opposite! In fact, if you look up 'rapture' in the dictionary, the first definition of it is "a feeling of intense pleasure or joy". Following that, is "state or experience of being carried away by overwhelming emotion", and then "a mystical experience in which the spirit is exalted to a knowledge of divine things" (we're getting closer!). And the last definition, the one we are going to take a closer look at this morning, is "the final assumption of Christians into heaven during the end-time according to Christian theology". If you combine all of the definitions, you have 'the extremely joyful experience of the final assumption of Christians into heaven, where we will know Christ fully, even as we are now known by Him' (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Ironically, the word 'rapture' is never once used in the Bible to denote this event, even though the dictionary does. Its use as such originated from the Latin verb raptare, meaning "to be caught up" or "to be snatched up". As you heard during our epistle reading (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), the Bible says that when the time comes for this prophecy to be fulfilled, Christians who are living on earth at that moment will be 'caught up' to meet the Lord in the air. Unfortunately, since this is a prophecy that will be fulfilled at a future date, there is a great deal of speculation concerning it, and no one can say 100% for certain when or how this will take place. As I'm sure you have noticed, there are currently countless websites, facebook pages, blogs, books, TV specials, and movies devoted to the end times and the rapture. Some tend to be complex and confusing, and others overly simplified. And there are contradictions among them. So what I am hoping to do this morning is share the understanding I have reached through study and prayer, so that you can also anticipate the future with joy, and not fear.
First, let me very briefly outline some of the different views. Approximately 85% of today's Christians believe in a future rapture, tribulation period, and millennium reign of Christ on earth. The other 15% believe all of these prophecies are not to be taken literally, and are just allegorical. I am part of the 85%. With that established, we now move on to how these three future events are divided up, especially in relation to the timing of the rapture. There are actually 3 basic interpretations of the timing of the rapture (plus a 4th 'partial rapture'). Basically, they are 'before the 7 year tribulation period' (pre-trib), '3 ½ years after the beginning of the tribulation' (mid-trib), and 'at the end of the tribulation' (post-trib). The pre-tribulation interpretation is the most widely held among evangelical Christians, and the one that I personally feel is the most Biblical. Let me explain why...
The Bible goes into great detail about the circumstances and events during the 7 year tribulation period, especially in the book of Revelation and Daniel, even to the timing of these events. Anyone that studies the Bible as these events start to unfold, could easily predict the time of the rapture if either of the two other interpretations were correct (mid or post-trib). And yet Jesus said no one knows the day or the hour (Matthew 24:36 and 25:13, Mark 13:32), and warns us over and over to be ready. To me, this is important for two reasons. Obviously the imperative to 'watch and be ready', but also consider this: Jesus was talking primarily to the Jews at the time. And the 7 year tribulation period will be the fulfillment of the final week mentioned in the book of Daniel (9:24-27), a time when God returns His attention to the Jews who have not yet accepted Jesus as their Messiah. The intense judgments that will be unleashed during those 7 years are not meant for Christians (aka 'the Church'). The rapture will mark the end of the church age, "For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5:9). And we are told that we are "to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead - Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath" (1 Thessalonians 1:10). I could go on and on, but I'm sure you get the idea.
You might be wondering why there are Christians that truly believe that the rapture will happen in the middle of the tribulation or at the end. There are verses in the Bible that they will quote that do make either of those interpretations sound feasible. Obviously all three cannot be right and only time will prove which is correct. But remember how I mentioned the doctrine of eternal security during my message on faith? One must look at the bigger picture and not pull verses out of context. (And this is especially easy to do when dealing with prophecy.) When you consider the nature of God, and look at the big picture, eternal security and the pre-tribulation rapture go hand in hand. Satan loves to make us fearful. He loves to make us doubt God's Word. He wants us to both question our salvation and to question God's love. He would like nothing more than for you to worry about whether or not you are saved, even though you have asked Jesus to be your Lord and Savior. And he would like nothing more than for you to worry about the future, about whether or not you are going to go through part or all of the tribulation, which will be worse than any other time in history.
The only thing we need to be concerned about is those who do not have faith in Jesus. Reaching the lost should be our primary goal as individuals, and as a church. As the apostle Peter said, "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). But eventually the Lord's patience is going to run out, and the time will come when the church will be raptured. Those who are left will face an awful fate. If they turn to the Lord they will most likely pay for it with their lives. But if they don't, and worship the antichrist during the tribulation, they will pay for it with eternal damnation. We need to reach them now!
In conclusion, I hope you realize there is no reason to fear the second coming of our Lord. I also hope you will be wise enough to avoid any false doctrine in regard to it, or any other false doctrines that satan will try to lure you off the path with. But rather be filled with joy and anticipation! For soon we will be spending 7 years, not facing tribulation, but enjoying the marriage supper of the Lamb! (Revelation 19:9). Praise Jesus that we are "looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus" (Titus 2:13). So then, "let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:25).