November 12, 2008

Q and A 2.0 Revisited: #10--The Rapture

What's the deal with the rapture? How will it affect those on earth and those already in heaven?

I bet if you were honest, you'd admit that there was a time when you couldn't find someone you were looking for, or couldn't get anyone on the phone, and you secretly began to wonder if the rapture had happend, and you'd been "left behind". Admit it.

I want you to forget about all the things you’ve heard, the Left Behind books that you’ve read. Forget all those Thief in the Night movies we talked about yesterday, and I want to talk to you strictly from Scripture.

The word “rapture” never appears anywhere in the Bible. It’s from the Latin word raptus which means “caught up”. There is only one verse in Scripture that deals with the idea of believers being “caught up in the air”:

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord together.”

No text in the Bible speaks of this idea of the rapture and the Great Tribulation together. So, ideas have to be formed by taking verses from one part of the Bible and putting them together with verses from another part of the Bible. This has led people to divide themselves up into basically three camps:

Pre-tribulation View—believers will leave earth before the great persecution begins

  • There is some scriptural support for this

  • Daniel 9:20-27 is the most common passage alluded to

Midtribulation View—believers will only experience half of the great persecution

  • This one is a hard case to make from Scripture and is unlikely accurate

  • The few proponents of this view point to verses like Revelation 11:15-17 and place the rapture in Revelation 14.

Posttribulation View—believers will experience the entirety of the great persecution and Jesus will come back again

  • There is scriptural support for this

  • This view sees the events of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 happening at the same time.

I’ve now told you everything the Bible says about the rapture. But, let me tell you a couple of more things that are important for you to think about when making up your mind about what you believe about this. It’s good for you to search the Scripture and make up your own mind.

#1—If you believe that Christ will rapture the church before the tribulation begins (the whole “left behind” idea), then you must believe that Christ will have 2 "Second Comings". He will come back to rapture the church before the tribulation, then return again at the end of the tribulation to establish his kingdom on earth. This is a hard case to make from Scripture.

#2—The idea of the church being raptured out of this world before the Great Tribulation is a relatively new idea. Before the mid-1800’s, the belief that believers would disappear from earth before the tribulation began (the rapture) was completely unknown throughout the history of the church. It was proposed and made famous by an Irish evangelist named John Nelson Darby. People who we look to, even in recent church history (like Johnathan Edwards, John Wesley, John Newton, George Whitefield), these guys never heard of, nor held to this belief.

#3—the Greek word used for meeting the Lord in the air is the same word that was often used for a welcome and escort provided for a returning king or visiting dignitary to an ancient Roman city. You see this same word in the parable of the ten bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-13) with them going out to meet the groom and escort him to his new bride’s parents home. It's also used in Acts 28:15 when the Roman Christians leave town to meet Paul on the highway and escort him back to their city. This suggests that Jesus will descend from heaven to earth at the second coming and that his followers will form a welcoming party to meet him part of the way and then escort him back to earth in triumph. Those on earth will meet Christ in the air, and that will be preceded by those who are in heaven somehow coming back with Christ by rising from the dead.

Again, it's important to not get too caught up in the details, but rather focus on the fact that there IS a Second Coming somewhere in the future. That means that we should try and lead as many people to go with us as possible.

Next, we'll look at what the Bible says about The Judgment at the end of this age. Check out all of the Q and A series here.

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