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The Rapture - Part 1

Tom Pennington • Selected Scriptures

  • 2007-04-29 PM
  • Systematic Theology
  • Sermons


Well, tonight we continue our study. We've just really begun in the great biblical doctrine of eschatology; that is, a discourse or words about "last things", those things that are yet to come in the history of the world. Tonight, we come to the subject of the Rapture.

At the Christian college that I attended there was a story (actually it was really kind of a legend by the time I was there) that was often repeated as if it were fact. Apparently, a number of years before I attended, there was a male student who lived in constant fear that the Rapture would come, and he would be left behind. Unfortunately, this particular male student's roommates were not incredibly sympathetic.

In fact, they decided to play a very cruel joke. One night after he had fallen asleep his roommates carried out their complex plan. First, they made their beds look like they had been recently occupied but the covers laid there undisturbed. They completely evacuated every student from the entire floor of the dormitory. Then they carefully stationed a couple of men in the hallway; one of these men was to shout. He had a deep bass, full voice. Another was to blow a trumpet, and a third was to strike a device that they had taken from the stage which once struck sounded like thunder.

And so, at the appointed time when the hall was completely empty of all students, this man asleep, the trumpet blew, the thunder sounded, the voice cried out, and those men quickly ran to their hiding places. Of course, the guy who'd been asleep was awakened by the shout, and he heard the trumpet. He heard the thunder and immediately he came to the realization that his worst fear had been realized. He looked around his room, his roommates, they were all gone. He ran into the hall. He saw no one. He opened the doors of several adjoining rooms, threw them open, only to discover that the same thing was true in each of those dorm rooms. The Rapture had happened, and he had been left behind.

That's a very cruel joke. (Laughter) I heard that legend while I was in school, but it was only after I moved to California that I discovered that, as the story is also told on good grounds, that one of the men behind that prank was my mentor, John MacArthur. (Laughter) Now, I don't know if that's true or not, but I hear it might be.

Well, tonight and next Sunday night, Lord willing, I want us to study this mysterious and awesome event called the Rapture. Now, let me put it in context for you just to remind you of our "Ordo Eschatos" that we've put together. I'm not going to walk through this in great detail, but you'll notice starting at the left and moving to the right is a sort of biblical order of coming events, starting of course with death, if Christ should delay His coming, then an intermediate state that is something happens to us between death and resurrection. We talked about that last week.

Then comes the next event on the Divine timeline we believe which is the Rapture. Now, when you look at the word "rapture" understand that it comes from a Latin word ... the word "rapio" which means "to snatch or to seize". Rapture technically means "to remove by force from one place to another". The reason we use this word it is it is the Latin word that's used to translate the Greek verb in 1 Thessalonians 4:17; a word that in English is translated as "caught up". They shall be "caught up" together with the Lord. Now, all of us without exception believe in the Rapture. The debate isn't about if there will be a rapture, it's about when. Every true Bible student believes that what's described in 1 Thessalonians 4 will occur and that believers will be caught up to the Lord in the air. There's no debate about that issue. On that there is full agreement. The issue that divides us is when that" catching up" will occur.

Tonight, I want us to begin our study and, Lord willing, next week we'll complete it. We need to start though tonight by coming to grips with why there are varying views about this issue and such strong disagreement. So, let's start by looking at the foundation of the view of the Rapture which is really an exegetical dilemma. There is a dilemma that needs to be solved; there are conflicting streams of biblical data and different solutions are proposed to solve that conflict.

Let's start though with some reluctant admissions. Regardless of the bravado from those in all the main camps. There are no definitive scriptural statements that make this doctrine clear. Of when that catching up will occur. Again, everyone agrees 1 Thessalonians 4 will occur, that the believers will be caught up in the air to meet the Lord; the issue is when in connection with what. But there are no definitive scriptural statements that make the timing of that event clear. There are those from different viewpoints who reluctantly admit this. For example, from the Pre-Tribulational view, our view, my view you have John Walvoord who's who writes: "The fact is that neither Post-Tribulationism or Pre-Tribulationism is an explicit teaching of Scripture. The Bible does not in so many words state either."

On the other end of the spectrum you have George Allen Ladd who is a great, voice for Post-Tribulationism. He writes, "With the exception of one passage, (and I'll mention that in a moment) the author will grant that the Scripture nowhere explicitly states that the church will go through the Great Tribulation, nor does the Word explicitly place the Rapture at the end of the Tribulation."

He admits that although that is his view; now what is the one text by the way that Ladd's referring to? It is Revelation 20:4 - 6 which simply states that the Resurrection, a resurrection, will occur after the Great Tribulation. That's obviously not a strong argument for his position. So, if there are no definitive scriptural statements that make the matter clear, why are there several very strongly held viewpoints about this?

Well, those distinct views have arisen in answer to a couple of apparent contradictions in the biblical text. And I say "apparent" because understand we embrace inerrancy. We know the Bible doesn't contradict itself. Our problem is sometimes sorting out and interpreting and making sure that we arrive at the proper meaning. There are, however, a couple of apparent conflicts.

The Bible clearly teaches that Christ will return and that no one knows when that will be. Several books and systematic theologies start by identifying the reality of these apparent conflicts surrounding the details of Christ's return. A couple of examples: John MacArthur in his book on the Second Coming as well as Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology; both men who hold differing positions start by acknowledging these apparent conflicts.

For the next few minutes I want you to assume, and I know this is a challenge, but assume for a moment that you have no position on this issue, and that we're simply examining the biblical

data together. I want you to see (and I'm going to belabor this purposely because I want you to see) why there are these differing views. It's because there are these two streams of biblical data that on the surface appear to contradict. And so out of those two streams of biblical data there have come solutions, and we'll look at those solutions after we look at the apparent conflicts. But, stay with me. Let me belabor this because I want you to see the problem.

You have, first of all, passages that indicate that Christ's return will be sudden and unexpected. Another way to say that is that the return of Christ is imminent. Now, I need to define that word because there is a lot of confusion and a lot of people use it differently, and I probably don't mean what some people mean by that. Imminent does not mean that Christ will return soon or that Christ must return soon. Instead, what I mean by imminent is that Christ could return at any moment, and we should live constantly in expectation of that event. If that's your definition, then there are a number of texts that argue that reality. There are a number of biblical texts that say Christ could return at any moment. You should be ready. You should live in expectation of that event. Let's look at them together. Some of these are more definitive than others, but I want to run through them so stay with me here.

First of all, in Matthew 24, (and I understand, by the way, that some of these passages deal in our context with differing aspects of the return of Christ. We're not dealing with that right now, so stay with me. I want you to see that these passages apparently say that Christ's return will be sudden and unexpected; where to plug that, we're not talking about yet. Alright?) Matthew 24:42,

"Therefore, be on the alert for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you also must be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will."

Matthew 24:50, "the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and an hour which he does not know." Matthew 25:13, "Be on the alert then for you do not know the day nor the hour." We move on to Mark's gospel. Mark 13, "But of that day or hour no one knows not even the angels in Heaven nor the Son but the Father alone. Take heed. Keep on the alert for you do not know when the appointed time will come." Mark 13:34,

"It is like a man away on a journey, who upon leaving his house and putting his slaves in charge, assigning to each one his task, also commanded the door keepers stay on the alert. Therefore, be on the alert--for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows or in the morning--in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep. What shall I say to you I say to all, 'be on the alert!'"

Luke 12:40, "You, too, be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect." Beginning to get a feel for how the Scripture lays this out for us? First Corinthians 6:22, "Maranatha" oh, Lord come. That one isn't quite as explicit, but it anticipates even in the mouth of Paul, "Lord, come now. We want You to come." Philippians 3:20, "… our citizenship is in Heaven, from which also we eagerly are waiting for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;" Philippians 4:5, "Let your gentle spirit be known to all men; the Lord is near." That is His coming. First Thessalonians 1:10, "… [we are waiting] (from His) … for His Son from Heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus…." First Thessalonians 5:2, "… you yourselves know full well that the Day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night." Second Timothy 4:8, "in the future there's laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge will award to me on that day and not to me only but all those, but also to all those who have loved His appearing." Titus 2, "… the grace of God has appeared to us bringing salvation … [and it has instructed us (notice this verse 12)] "… to live …" verse 13, "to live … looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus…." Hebrews 10:24,

… 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.

Attend church, he's saying. Gather with the believers as you see the day of the return drawing near. Hebrews 10:37: "… YET IN A VERY LITTLE WHILE, HE WHO IS COMING WILL COME, AND WILL NOT DELAY." James 5,

… be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soul, of the soil, being patient about it until it gets the early and late rains. You, too, be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.

First John 2:18, "Children, it is the last hour and just as you have heard the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour." In the same chapter verse 28, "Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming." Anticipate His coming and live in the realization of that coming. The same thing in 1 John 3:2, "… [We anticipate] that when He appears, we will be like Him for we will see Him just as He is."

John writes as though it could have happened in the first century. First Peter 4:7, "The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgement and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer." First Peter 5:4, "… when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Live in anticipation of that." Second Peter 3:10, "… the day of the Lord will come like a thief…." Move on to Revelation 1, the Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave Him to show to His bondservants the things which must shortly or soon take place. Revelation 1:3, "Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near." Revelation 3:11, "I am coming quickly; hold fast … [that which] you have so that no one will take your crown." Revelation 22:7, "[And] Behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book." 22:12: "Behold I am coming quickly, and my reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done." And Verse 20 of that last chapter of Scripture: "He who testifies to these things says, 'Yes, I am coming quickly.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus." It's a great journey, isn't it?

Our Lord wants us to be aware of the reality that He could come at any moment. Whatever else those passages meant to the first readers they meant that they should stay alert and they should live in the hope and expectation that Christ's return could be soon. It could be during their lifetime. And several of them stressed that His return will be sudden and unexpected; not preceded by clear and obvious signs but rather sudden, unexpected. Now, let me just give a balance to this because I think sometimes we can be our own worst enemies.

Don't oversell the issue of eminency. I've heard some people say things like this, "Well, Paul was convinced that Jesus would return in his lifetime." And they'll use passages like 1 Thessalonians 4 where Paul says, "We who are alive and remain will be caught up. See Paul thought, he would be one of those. We who are alive and remain." Well, that's not careful exegesis, because you could use the same logic to argue that Paul also expected to die cause in 1 Corinthians 6:14 he says, "God has not only raised up the Lord but will also raise us up through His power." In 2 Corinthians 4:14 he says, "He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you."

So, what I want you to see is the Scripture does clearly teach that, (and there are all of these passages), that emphasize the reality that Christ could return suddenly, unexpectedly. We should be on the alert, we should be watching, we should be ready, we should live in anticipation of that. Not looking for anything else to occur but rather understanding that it could be sudden and unexpected.

The problem is, however, there are also certain passages that indicate that certain signs will precede Christ's return. All of those texts indicate that we're waiting, and it could happen at any moment, but there are texts that indicate that there's certain signs that could happen before Christ's return and hence the conflict, hence the various solutions. Let's briefly look at these as well.

The primary passage is Matthew 24, and I invite you to turn there. In Matthew 24 in our Lord's longest discourse on prophecy and His ministry which was the week of the Passion, in Matthew 24 you have a series of signs that must precede Christ's return. Notice in verse 3 of chapter 24, "As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives the disciples came to Him privately saying, 'Tell us when these things happen and what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?'" Now, there's a lot of difference of interpretation of that verse. Some see one question that they're asking just taking three different forms; others say no, they were really asking several different questions.

But for our purposes tonight, it really doesn't matter. I want you to see that they're certainly asking one of their questions is that what will be the sign of Your coming and the end of the age? Now, Jesus answers their question with a (or their questions I should say), with a series of signs that (notice verse 8), He calls "birth pangs." Now, that's a very definitive expression, very descriptive expression because like birth pains at first, they come mild and infrequent. In fact, many of the things that Jesus lists here are happening now. But they're now like sort of Braxton Hicks contractions; they are premature labor pains and as we get closer to the end these labor pains come as John MacArthur writes in his book, "in relentless waves faster and harder as the time approaches". The time for hard labor and delivery will come. But what I want you to see from this passage are the signs, several signs, that Jesus identifies as preceding His coming.

What are these signs? Well, first of all, notice in verses 4 and 5 Jesus answered and said to them, "See to it that no one misleads you for many will come in My name saying I am the Christ and will mislead many." So, first of all, there will be false Messiahs; that's one of the signs He comes back to that in verses 23 - 26. 21.38

Secondly, Jesus says the signs that will come before My coming are wars and rumors of wars. Notice verse 6, "you'll be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened for those things must take place but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom."

Thirdly, Jesus says there will be famines, earthquakes and pestilences. Notice verse 7, the second half of the verse says, "… and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes" and Luke 21:11 adds, "pestilences" the parallel passage. Notice what Jesus says in verse 8, "But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs." Simply the first labor pains.

Verse 9 continues. Another sign that will come before Jesus returns is the persecution of true believers. "Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name."

Fifthly, spiritual defection of false believers will occur. Look at verses 10 – 13, "At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another; many false prophets will arise and mislead many because lawlessness is increased most people's love will grow cold but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved." Verse 14, we learn that another sign will occur and that is the gospel will be preached to the whole world: "[But] This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations and then the end will come."

In verse 15 running all the way down through verse 28 Jesus tells us that before His coming will be the Great Tribulation. Again, stay with me, alright, I want you to see that in this passage Jesus is clearly teaching there will be signs that precede His coming. He says in verse 15, "Therefore, when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet standing in the holy place" and He goes on through this, and He says there's going to be this time of great tribulation verse 21 "(for since) for then there will be a great tribulation such as not occurred since the beginning of the world until now nor ever will. And He goes down all the way through verse 28 detailing that great tribulation. Verse 29 adds yet another sign before His coming: "But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky. And the powers of the heavens will be shaken."

There will be, in the sky as we know it, a radical change; there will be an alteration of the heavenly bodies that now are so constant. Before the return of Christ. And we can add one more sign that's not in this passage but does occur in the Thessalonian epistles, 2 Thessalonians 2:1 - 3, the coming of the Man of Sin.

Now, we cannot ignore these clear statements of Scripture just as we cannot ignore the clear statements of immanency as I defined it, that is, that Christ could come suddenly, unexpectedly and we must live, be on the alert and in anticipation of that coming. You have then these two parallel streams of biblical data. Christ could come at any moment, be alert, be ready, there's nothing else that has to happen first and on the other hand you have this clear biblical stream of data that says there are these signs that must occur before His coming. How do you reconcile those apparent conflicts? Well, expositors and scholars have sought for ways to reconcile those two bodies of data and out of the, the reconciliation or the attempts to reconcile those two streams of biblical data come the varying views regarding the end. So, what are the solutions then? What are the proposed solutions to this apparent conflict in Scripture? There are three of them.

First of all, you can deny immanency that is you can deny those passages that speak of "be on the alert it could happen at any moment" and no signs need to come first and argue that the signs that are predicted have not yet been fulfilled. Essentially, the people who take these views argue that Christ could not come at any time; there are things, there are several signs that must happen first. The ones who take this approach, this solution, if you will, to these parallel streams of data ... and when I say deny obviously they don't just say "we're just going to forget those verses are in the Bible" ... they reinterpret them, they come up with a different way to interpret them but essentially they deny the sudden expectancy of the return of Christ. And they say no, that really isn't what that's saying and they seek to explain that and these are bright men, and I don't mean to, to in any way undermine or uh denigrate them and their intelligence, there they have reasons and we'll talk about those next some next week. But these are those who hold to the Mid and Post-Tribulational views of the return of Christ.

Both of these approaches, the Mid-Tribulational return of Christ and the Post-Tribulational return of Christ seek to undermine those passages that describe a sudden unexpected return; they will speak of quote "the myth of immanency". Several who hold to what's called the "Pre-Wrath Rapture" which is in reality a variation of the Mid-Tribulation view will deny immanency; authors such as Bob van Kampen and Marv Rosenthal. Those who hold to a Post-Tribulational view like Louis Berkhoff, the great theologian denies he, he denies outright the concept of eminency. Says Christ could not come at any time. That's his solution. Now, there are reasons to take that path, there are also weaknesses to that path as you can see.

A second approach to this these two conflicting streams of data that Jesus could return suddenly and unexpectedly and that there are signs that must precede His coming is to redefine the signs

so that you can still believe in eminency. In other words, there are those who say we see that data that says that Christ could return suddenly that He could return imminently but we also see

the signs, and so we will sort of redefine those signs. Now, those who take this approach will either say one of two things. They will either say that all the signs have definitely been fulfilled and that Christ could return at any moment. Now to do that you obviously have got to do some serious redefining. For example, the shakeup in the heavens. I haven't seen that. Nothing in history has seen that but those who hold this position redefine those things to be something that uh, really is not supernatural so much; they're events that occurred at some point in history and the views that are taken vary but essentially they have to redefine those signs, and then say they have all been fulfilled. And Christ could return at any moment.

A second approach to this view of redefined signs and still believing in eminency is this view and this is really Wayne Grudem's created view. He says "This is how I would approach it. It is unlikely that all the signs have been unfulfilled, but it is possible that all the signs have been fulfilled, and because it's possible, we can still live as if the return of Christ could happen today."

He believes, Grudem does, in this view, in a Post-Tribulation Rapture that Christ will return only once at the end of the Tribulation. And at that point He will gather His church and then return to earth immediately. Now, to his credit Grudem acknowledges that there are these passages that indicate eminency. And he has to deal with that. But that means that all those signs have to

happen before Christ can return so how can it be a surprise? How can we think of it as imminent? His solution is this: His solution in protecting both strains off biblical data is to say that while it is highly unlikely that the signs have been fulfilled, yet it's possible, So I can believe that Christ could return at any day at any hour. Now the only one he says that hasn't been fulfilled are the signs in the sky verse 29 of Matthew 24. And he says that those can happen so suddenly all the other signs have been fulfilled, and that one can happen so suddenly, or the others may have been fulfilled and that one can happen so suddenly that I can still live in anticipation of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. So, that's another approach to solving these two streams of data that we've looked at together tonight.

The third approach and the one that we are most common or excuse me that we are most familiar with, the most common among us is to deny that there will be any signs before Christ comes for His church. Those who take this approach argue for two aspects of the Second Coming. This is the Pre-Tribulation view of the Rapture of the church. There will be the Rapture of the church. It will occur before the Tribulation, and there are no signs to be fulfilled before this event occurs. Then there will be the Second Coming; this will follow the Rapture seven years later, and it will be a traumatic event preceded by the signs of Matthew 24. We speak of these events not as two separate comings but as the Second Coming in two distinct acts or aspects. So, there are the solutions. Let me look at them a little differently.

What are the primary views then as you look at these streams of biblical data? Well, there are a couple of lesser known views.

There is the "Partial Rapture" view. Have you ever heard of the Partial Rapture view? It's not very popular. But it's the view that people will be raptured based on when they are ready. (Laughter) Get ready! And then there's my father-in-law's sort of tongue in cheek view, called the "Pan Tribulation Rapture," and that is that it will all pan out in the end. Or you'll be raptured based on when you think you will be raptured. None of those views have become too popular.

There are really three primary views that have arisen in answer to the question of when does Christ return to catch up the believers as it's described in 1 Thessalonians 4. These three primary views are differentiated based on their relationship or the relationship of that event to the Tribulation period. All relate the catching up of the church to the events of the Seven Year Tribulation. Or to the Tribulation not all would believe would be seven years. Some believe that Christ will return for believers before the Tribulation. Others believe that He will return for believers during the Tribulation usually around the halfway point. Still others argue that His return for believers will be after the Tribulation. Let's look at those three primary views a little differently.

Let's start with the Pre-Tribulation view, that is, Christ will return in 1 Thessalonians 4 to catch up the church before the Tribulation begins. Here's a definition of this view: In the first stage of the Second Coming, Christ will come in the air for His saints before the Tribulation begins and will take them with Him back to Heaven. This is called the Rapture. The second stage of His coming occurs after the Tribulation when Christ will return to earth with His saints to defeat His

enemies and establish His earthly kingdom. That is the Pre-Tribulation view.

A second view is the Mid-Tribulation view; that is, Jesus will do that gathering up described in 1 Thessalonians 4 of His own (of His believers) at during the Tribulation. We can define it like this: believers in Christ will be raptured in the middle of the Tribulation prior to the outpouring of God's wrath called the Great Tribulation. Christ will take them back to Heaven with Him until the end of the Tribulation when He will return with them in the Second Coming. That is the Mid-Tribulation view.

And then finally, the third solution is the Post-Tribulation view which has 1 Thessalonians 4 happening at the end of the Tribulation period, and this is roughly a definition of that view: Living believers will be raptured in the air, (all believers that should say) will be raptured in the air at the Second Coming at the end of the Tribulation and will then immediately descend with Christ back to the earth. In other words, He doesn't go with them back to Heaven instead they are caught up into the air at the end of that tribulation period and immediately descend back with Him then in glorified bodies to the earth. That is the Post-Tribulation view. Now, there are variations of this view, in fact one writer distinguishes as many as four distinct sort of variations of this but that's it in sort of a broad brush stroke. Now, what are some preliminary observations then about these views? Let me give you several things to consider.

First of all, there is no definitive passage that asserts a clear biblical position on the timing of the events of 1 Thessalonians 4. Let's just be honest about that, be direct about it, and that's true whatever your position is whether you are Pre-Tribulational, Mid-Tribulational, or Post-Tribulational. There is no clear text that makes this definitive or there wouldn't be such disagreement. And even as I showed you earlier, key voices at the extremes of these positions have to agree with that.

Secondly, there is no view of Christ's return that is without its difficulties. We'll look at some of the weaknesses next week, but there is no such thing as one of these views that doesn't have some perceived flaws in it. There isn't one without some trouble is what I'm telling you. We need to be honest about that as well.

Thirdly, we must study and seek to reconcile these apparent contradictions related to the return of Christ just as we do with every other doctrine. It's imperative that we do this. We can'' just ignore it and act like well, it will all pan out in the end. We need to study the Scripture to try to understand to try to come to a resolution of these, what seem to be two opposing streams of biblical affirmations. Our church has done that. Let me take just a moment to read you the portion of our church's doctrinal statement that speaks to this issue:

We believe that before the Tribulation (Pre-Tribulational) before the Tribulation Christ will descend from Heaven, and at the sound of the trumpet the dead in Christ and all living believers will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. It is the purpose of God in the Rapture to save His own from the wrath destined for the world.

And several texts are listed that we will look at, Lord willing, next week. Now, you can be a member of this church and hold to a different position than that. But that is the position of this church, and that's my position, and it's the position of the elders that we embrace the return of Christ. Now, if you're in a position of leadership or teaching our elders have established the following position. Let me read this to you as well. It's important that you understand this:

We (that is the elders) wholeheartedly affirm Countryside Bible Church's position of a Pre-Tribulational Rapture of the church, a Pre-Millennial return of Christ and a literal Millennium. However, recognizing that positions on eschatology are not central to the gospel, and there are good men with differing positions, we establish the following guidelines for qualifying deacons and elders. A deacon or elder must hold to a literal Millennium, the Rapture of the Church, and the literal Second Coming of Jesus Christ but may differ personally with Countryside Bible Church's position on the timing of these events as long as he does not promote his own view and will support these positions of Countryside Bible Church.

In other words, we don't want this issue to become a divisive issue in this church; we will not permit that.

And that leads us to a fourth preliminary observation and that is: we must avoid dogmatism on this issue. Think for a moment about the first advent of Christ. While we will and do hold the position we will teach a position; we don't want to be as dogmatic on this as we would be say, on the doctrines of salvation. Because even when we think about the first advent of Christ you see the biblical data in the Old Testament and again there were these what appear to be conflicting streams of data and so what was the conclusion that most people had? Well, they got it all wrong. They thought there was one coming and in that coming Jesus would come as King. And they were very confused when it didn't play out the way they expected it to.

There were a few who got it right. There was Simeon who appeared to understand it when he met the Child Jesus in Luke 2:35 he understood that there was going to be a great deal of suffering that would pierce Mary's soul, but most didn't get it. Most were wrong; they didn't understand there would be two comings with many years between. In the same way, good men, men we respect disagree in this area. Many will be wrong. Some will be right. It remains to be seen who they are. So, don't be dogmatic. Whatever your position it should not be as important to you as the fundamentals of the faith are. Don't spend your whole life trying to decide when this is going to occur. The Scripture doesn't state it definitively.

Fifthly, instead (and this is key) we ought to emphasize what Scripture emphasizes. What in this matter is really foundational and fundamental to our faith? It's what all the views hold in common and that is that our Lord is literally coming again, and we need to live in expectation and hope of that reality. I believe that the position our church holds and that I hold is

right. I believe it from the Scripture; we'll look at the evidence for it next week. But, what I rejoice in most of all and, by the way I should say I hope it's right, too, I would love to be raptured before the Tribulation hits. But my faith will not be destroyed if the Tribulation begins, and I haven't been raptured and neither should yours. Our Lord will come for us. That we need to remain confident of.

Next week, Lord willing, we'll look at the meaning of the Rapture. We'll look at the defense, the biblical defense of the Rapture we'll look at the weaknesses of the position we hold. We need to be honest about that and try to answer some of those concerns and then we'll look at the usefulness of the Rapture. What purposes does it serve in our lives as believers?

Let's pray together:

Our Father, we thank You for Your Word. We thank you for what we've seen tonight and how our souls thrill just to read those passages one after another that reminds us that You are coming and that we can live in eager anticipation and expectation and hope that You will come. And when You come for us, we will be with You forever. Father, we long for that day. We cry out with Paul, "Maranatha". We cry out with the apostle John, "Even so come quickly, Lord Jesus."

We pray in His great name. Amen.

Systematic Theology