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The Rapture - Part 2

Tom Pennington • Selected Scriptures

  • 2007-05-06 PM
  • Systematic Theology
  • Sermons


Tomorrow morning our family hopes to leave early; I started to say bright and early, but we actually hope to leave before it's bright. We leave normally on car trips (which we're embarking on tomorrow) about 5 o'clock. We get the girls up and throw them in their pajamas in the back of the van, and we drive until we're out of Dallas, until we reach Cracker Barrel. And then we stop for breakfast, and that's how our car trips begin because our family ... we're embarking on a two day journey back to South Carolina where we hope this week to have a family reunion; just my siblings ... I have nine siblings .... my siblings, our families, and we're gathering together with a couple of aunts and uncles, and I think there're going to be about 60 of us. They're getting together toward the end of this week, but we're looking forward to it, and a lot of that for my girls is the car trip; the anticipation of the car trip and all of that involves.

Well, I do enjoy the journey; it's a two-jet, two-day journey, and we will have a lot of fun in the process. But as I've thought about it, as adults when you reach adulthood, you do enjoy the journey, but is the journey more important or is the destination? Obviously, in the end in the case of my car trip this week, it's the destination. It's being with family. It's having the chance to strengthen those relationships, to reach into the lives of some who may not be in Christ, and so we're looking forward to all of that.

As I thought about that, I was reminded that that's really the focus we need to have on eschatology and particularly when Christ returns for us. We ought to care about the journey, that is, when it occurs. But the real focus ought to be the destination even as we were just singing in

that last verse of "Amazing Grace", "... when we've been there ten thousand years." The real issue is that someday, and it could be very soon, we're going to be with Christ. So, as we walk through this issue together, we're trying to avoid the extremes, and there are two extremes.

One extreme is to imagine that "when" doesn't matter at all. And, oh well it'll all work out in the end, I don't really care, why are we studying this? We can't respond that way because the Scripture speaks to this issue. We can't ignore the revelation of God; we have to do as we have to do with so many things ... try to reconcile those things that are not immediately clear to us and come to an understanding of God's revelation. That's one extreme and that is to simply ignore the importance of it and just kind of wish it went away.

The other extreme is to spend every waking moment trying to defend our own position of the timing of the Rapture. Those are the two extremes, and my goal in our study together is to walk a line between those two extremes. And say, let's look at it. It is important. It is in the Word of God. We need to try to come to an understanding of it, but let's not be dogmatic about it, and for goodness sake don't spend your life trying to figure out when it's going to be because good men through the history of the church have disagreed on this.

Now, with that in mind, let me just give you a brief review as we study the Rapture. We begin by looking at the word itself. The word "rapture" comes from a Latin word, "rapio". It means to snatch or to seize; literally to remove by force from one place to another. It's the Latin word that's used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 where it's translated in English "caught up" in that great Rapture passage.

Now, the foundation of the Rapture is really an exegetical dilemma. Very distinct and divergent views have arisen to answer a couple of apparent contradictions in the biblical text. What are those contradictions? And we looked at these in great detail last time. I'm not going to do it again. If you missed last week, that was the foundation for what I'm going to talk about tonight, so I strongly encourage you to catch up but there are passages; there are many passages that indicate that Christ's return will be sudden and unexpected. We cannot ignore those passages. We cannot imagine that they do not exist.

On the other hand, there are also passages primarily Matthew 24, also 2 Thessalonians 2 that indicate that certain signs will precede Christ's return. Now, on the surface those appear to be contradictions (and I say appear to be) because we do believe that the Scripture does not contradict itself. The problem is not the Scripture. The problem is our understanding, our grasp of the truth.

So, how do you resolve those apparent conflicts? In one case that Christ's return is imminent, and by that I don't mean what many people mean; what I mean is Christ could return at any moment, and we should live constantly in expectation of that event. As Augustine said, "The last day is hidden that every day may be regarded." On the other hand, we have to acknowledge these passages that indicate certain signs will precede His return. Here are the proposed solutions.

One is to "deny" immanency, that is to say that Christ couldn't return at any time and argue that the signs in Matthew 24 have not yet been fulfilled.

A second approach is to "redefine" the signs so that you can say they have already happened even those great cataclysmic signs in the sky in some cases, and so I do believe Christ could return at any moment because I think those signs have already been fulfilled in some historic event.

The third approach is to deny that there will be any signs before Christ comes for His church in a separate coming prior to His final and ultimate return. So, out of those responses come three primary views. They all have to do with a relationship to what's called the Tribulation Period. Now, we haven't studied that yet. If you don't have any experience in biblical prophecy, don't worry we'll get there. But there is a period of time coming the Bible prophesies called the "Tribulation Period" when God pours out His wrath upon the earth.

The three views of Christ's return are based, for His church, are based on a relationship to that Tribulation Period.

There's the "Pre-Tribulation" view; that's pretty obvious. Pre, before: that is, Christ will return for His church before that period called the Tribulation begins.

There is the "Mid-Tribulation" view, again very obvious; some time during the Tribulation period.

And there's the "Post-Tribulation" view which says that He comes after the Tribulation for His church.

Now with that review in mind, I want us to continue our study of this mysterious event called The Rapture. Tonight, I want us to begin with its meaning a sort of preliminary explanation. The Pre-Tribulation Rapture which is the view that I hold that our church holds pictures Christ's return in two distinct stages separated by that seven-year period called the Tribulation.

The first stage is as I said called the Rapture. It is just before the Tribulation begins. Christ, we're told, will come in the air. He will come "for" His saints, and He will come to take the saints, this is the purpose, to take the saints back to Heaven.

On the other hand, the second stage of His coming (will be) is called The Second Coming, or the Revelation in Glory; people refer to it differently. This occurs "after" that seven-year period called the Tribulation. Christ is this case will not come not just in the air, but He will return to the earth, He will come "with" His saints instead of "for" his saints, and he will come "for" this distinct purpose, to defeat His enemies and to establish an earthly kingdom.

Now, to further contrast these two stages, let me give you the elements of the event of the Rapture that distinguish it from the elements of the Revelation in Glory or the Second Coming. The Rapture of the church (and I'll use 1 Thessalonians 4 as the primary passage here), in the Rapture we're told that Christ gathers His own. The Resurrection in the Rapture is prominent. It's the primary focus. Christ comes (we're told in 1 Thessalonians 4), to reward and believers in this case depart the earth. In the case of an, and unbelievers remain on the earth, so believers depart the earth, unbelievers remain on the earth.

When you look at the Revelation in Glory, and you look at Matthew 24 and 25 (those two great chapters preached in our Lord's last week there on the Temple Mount), you find that in the case of the return that's described there, angels gather the elect, (that there is no mention of the Resurrection at all); that Christ comes to judge is the distinct purpose that is laid out, and unbelievers are taken away in this case, and believers remain on the earth. Now you can see immediately that there are significant differences between those two passages; and therefore, we believe there are there are in effect two different stages of the return of Christ accomplishing two different purposes with two different characters.

Now, why do we believe that? That gives you sort of the meaning and the basic preliminary explanation of what we believe, but why do we believe it? I want us to look at its defense, the biblical data. I want to start with some general arguments; we'll go to some specific texts, but let's start with some general arguments. The first would be (and these are in no really apparent order, in other words I'm not going from the most important argument to the least important argument or vice versa. These are just in the order I wrote them down.)

Immanency: now again, remember how I defined that. That is the Scriptures teach that Christ could come at any time and we're to live in expectation of that. The view that we hold, the Pre-Tribulation Rapture, accounts for all those passages we saw last time that call for that eager expectation of the sudden and unexpected coming of Christ. And it does it without forcing us to the extremes of either denying the Bible says we ought to be alert because Jesus could return at any time or of redefining the signs of Matthew 24 so that we can still believe in immanency ... the two approaches the other two views have to take.

A second general argument is the promise that's given to believers of protection from God's wrath. The Tribulation period is by definition a time of the outpouring of God's wrath; that entire period referred to as the Day of the Lord will be characterized by divine wrath. There are a number of passages that make this clear, and I'm not going to take time to go through them tonight; we'll do that when we study the Tribulation. But I just want you to see this. At the time it's also referred to, by the way, or described as the time of God's judgement in a number of passages. Its purpose is to judge those that live upon the earth, and it will be a worldwide outpouring of the wrath of God. Now, as with childbirth (and we talked about this a little last time), the birth pangs will come in increasing intensity. They will come in increasing frequency I should say, as we approach the end, so the display of God's wrath is much more obvious and cataclysmic as the events of that seven-year period unfold. Again, we'll talk about

this when we study the Great Tribulation; but for tonight I just want you to realize the fact that the Tribulation is the outpouring of God's wrath. But Scripture, on the other hand, says that believers will never face God's wrath.

Romans 5:9, "Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him." First Thessalonians 1:10, "… [We're waiting] for His Son from Heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come." First Thessalonians 5:9 "… God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." Now, those who take other views would say yes, but all those passages are talking about eternal wrath; that is, the eternal wrath of God endured in Hell. And certainly that's true, and that may be all that these passages are referring to. They are not limited in that way. I think they are specifically saying that we will not endure the wrath of God, but specifically I think in a couple of passages Scripture says that believers will be exempt from the special time of God's wrath. Two such passages, the first is 2 Thessalonians 2 where we read this: Paul says, "For this reason God will send upon them" (now again, you see the context here; He's talking about the man of sin; He's talking about the Tribulation period so that gives you context, time context).

For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.

He's differentiating here between those who can expect to be judged during that worldwide outpouring of the wrath of God and us who in, who contrary have been chosen from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. Even I think a clearer passage is Revelation 3:10. It occurs in the letter to the church in Philadelphia. Paul writes, "Because you have kept ..." or excuse me, John writes, "Because you have kept the word of My perseverance I also will keep you from the hour of testing; that hour which is about to come upon the whole world to test those who dwell on the earth."

Now, again, I admit to you that this could be a reference (this hour of testing coming upon the whole world) could be a reference to Roman persecution; that's what those who hold different views from ours would say. But in the context of the entire book of Revelation and the very next verse which speaks of Christ's return, it seems much more likely a reference to the Tribulation. If that is true (and I think there are exegetical reasons to believe that it is), notice that Christ promises that believers will be kept from that hour. The specific Greek terminology that's used, "kept from", is a very interesting one. Those who are Post-Tribulational, that is they believe the Rapture comes at the end of the Tribulation period, they would define "kept from" as "guarded " or "protected through"; that is, you're not going to be outside of that trouble and wrath looking in, rather you're going to be guarded through it; you're going to still be here, but you're going to be protected through it. And it, the word can mean that; it's that, it's used that way in John 17:15.

But the usual meaning of the Greek word that's involved here, the little preposition "ek" which means "out of", in both the Septuagint and in the New Testament is "out of" or "away from". It's used this way in a number of texts. And so, the most obvious interpretation of this passage is that believers are going to be protected "from" in the sense of removed "out of" that hour of testing which is about to come upon the whole world. Now, it's "beyond question" that believers will never suffer God's wrath, whether in the Tribulation or in eternity. I don't know of anyone who would say otherwise. It's "possible" that Revelation 3:10 is also arguing that believers will not have to be on earth and be subjected to the wrath of God that will be poured out upon the earth.

Now, let's go on to another argument, the general arguments we're looking at immanency, the promise of protection from God's wrath and thirdly the absence of the church on earth in Revelation 6 - 18. This is another reason I believe in a Pre-Tribulation Rapture. The church is not clearly represented as being on earth from the end of Revelation 3 until the Second Coming in Revelation 19. There are several references throughout that context to "the saints" being on earth; Revelation 14:7 for example and Revelation 14:10, but we're not told who those saints are. They could just as easily be those who come to faith during the Tribulation.

In addition to that, when you go to Revelation 19 and you see Jesus coming out of heaven, guess who's with Him when He comes, out of heaven? The saints! Listen to Revelation 19, "And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True and in righteousness He judges and wages war … and the armies which are in heaven clothed in fine linen, white and clean were following Him on white horses." So, when you look at the flow of Revelation, you don't see the church on earth in those chapters, clearly on earth in Revelation 6 – 18, and you do see them in Revelation 19 coming "from" Heaven with Christ at the return of Christ, at what everybody agrees is the Second Coming, that Revelation in Glory that happens at the end of the Tribulation period.

A third, or excuse me a fourth general argument is Paul's expression in Philippians 3:11. This is what it says, Philippians 3:11, Paul says, "I want to attain to the resurrection from the dead." This is not a strong argument, but it's an interesting argument, a very interesting expression in Greek, literally the Greek text says, "I want to attain to the resurrection out from among the corpses." He uses very clear language that implies that he and other Christians are coming out from among the other corpses. They are going to be resurrected while others are not, which very well harmonizes with the Pre-Tribulational view of the return of Christ.

I believe that both of these passages are speaking very specifically about the initial resurrection of believers from out of the rest of the dead. It's also called the Resurrection of the Righteous. We refer to it as the Rapture.

Another general argument that I would use is the definition and use of the Greek word "harpazo". This word is translated as "caught up" in the Rapture passage 1 Thessalonians 4:17, "we will be caught up". If you look at that word it's used 14 times in the New Testament in various contexts, but literally it means as I told you earlier to be "snatched away". John 10:28 for example, it's used, "… I will give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will "... [here it is] "snatch them out of My Hand." Acts 8:39, "When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing." Revelation 12:5, speaking of Israel, "… She gave birth to a son, [Christ], a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her Child [speaking here of the Ascension] was caught up to God and to His Throne." You can see how this word is used in these various contexts. It's used to imply not merely "catching up and then returning immediately to that same situation," but rather a removal from one place to another.

Those are the general arguments that I would say. But there are also (in addition to those general arguments to defend the Pre-Tribulational view), there are also some major texts, three major texts that I want us to look at. Turn with me to John 14. In John 14 we have a record of what happens on the night (beginning in John 14 and running all the way through John 17), we have a record of what happens on the night of our Lord's crucifixion. And we read in verse 14 as He's talking to His disciples, excuse me in 14:1 He says, "Do not let your heart be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in Me." Now, why is He saying, don't let your going to be troubled? Because He has just told them that He is going to leave them, that He's going to die; He's reminded them of that yet again, but He's also told them that He's going to leave them. And they're very sorrowful about this. And so, He says, "Don't let your heart be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in Me." Because here's what I'm going to do, verse 2,

"In my Father's house [obviously a reference to heaven,] are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you, for I go [I'm going to leave you] to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you ... [stop there].

It's very interesting, picture our Lord gives. You can see this in Israel even to this day particularly in the Arab communities if you travel there, (and I hope you will travel with us next year); you'll see that families will often have a home, family home, and when someone marries, they will simply add another compartment, another section to the home. And then, as the family grows, they continue to add compartments and sections to the home, and it becomes the family home where the family is a community together. That's really the picture behind this expression. In my Father's house there are not many mansions, I hate to rain on your parade, but we're talking about apartments, condos if you will, but trust me it'll be like nothing you've ever seen. It'll be far better than your single-family home ever thought about being I can assure you of that.

But He's saying, I'm going to go and prepare a place for you, verse 3, "If I go and prepare a place for you I will come again and receive you to Myself that where I am, there you may be also." Now notice that Jesus here promises His disciples that He will come and take them to where He is and where He has prepared a place for them. In the Post-Tribulational view, Jesus does not take believers to the Father's house where He'd been for all this time; instead they meet Him in the air and return to earth. And depending on their view of the millennium, they're here for a long period of time or at least a short period of time while Christ cleans everything up. But here the picture's very clear that I'm going to go. There's no mention, by the way, in this passage of the judgement of the wicked which is another interesting thing; doesn't mean anything in and of itself, but it is certainly an interesting thing.

Now turn to 1 Corinthians 15. This is the second passage. First Corinthians 15:50. Paul of course has been talking about resurrection and the need for a resurrection body, and so he says, in verse 50,

Now I say this brethren that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God [meaning our current fallen bodies] nor does the perishable inherit the perishable. [So, here's what's going to happen he says: you can't go in like you are.] Behold I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep ... [Now, by mystery he means something that was not previously revealed that is revealed now and he says here it is.] We will not all sleep, [remember we've talked about that ... it's a euphemism for death; we're not all going to die; our bodies are not going to be lying in the grave] but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye [the eye of course being the fastest moving part of the body.... he uses it in an illustration of how quick this will happen], at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will all be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.

And he goes on to describe the victory that Jesus has accomplished over death. This very much resembles John 14, and as we'll see 1 Thessalonians 4. It speaks of Christ receiving His own, of changing His own; it speaks primarily of resurrection as opposed to judgement, and it speaks of believers both dead and alive being glorified and received by Christ to Himself.

The final passage and the one that really, I think, is the strongest of all of these is 1 Thessalonians 4. Turn there with me, 1 Thessalonians 4, and again we're not doing an exhaustive study of these passages because of time. I'm going to, Lord willing, finish our study of the Rapture tonight. At some point we'll work our way through the Thessalonians epistle and as I'm prone to do, we'll spend more time when we get there at that time. Notice though verses 13 and 14. He says,

But we do not want you to be uninformed brethren, about those who are asleep…. [Stop there. Now, remember that Paul was with them for a period of no longer than six weeks. We learned that in the book of Acts based on the study of the book of Acts we can discern that he was there a short period of time; at least a couple of weeks but no longer than six weeks. In that time he taught them many things. He taught them things that are mentioned even in this, in these two letters: things like the Day of The Lord, things like the Man of Sin. He reminds them in 2 Thessalonians 2 that he had taught them those things while he was with them. But here he says there's something I didn't tell you about. I don't want you to be uninformed about something else. It's about those who are asleep so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. Those Christians who have died.] ... For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.

Now, verse 14 appears on the surface not, to be a non-sequitur. How is it that if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, we also believe that God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus? I think there are two reasons. One, obviously Jesus has conquered death, but I think there is a greater reason and that is Jesus is the head, we're the body. Therefore, it would make perfect sense that we would all be given life even as Jesus the Head is alive. But he goes on to say, (let me give some context to this first before I move on). In these two verses what we learn are that these people in Thessalonica were afraid that their friends who had died would miss the coming of Jesus Christ.

By the way, this is another illustration of the early church's belief that Jesus could come within their lifetimes. Because here they're concerned about those who have died; they may miss the Second Coming whereas they themselves who are still alive are going to get in on it. And so, in verse 15, Paul says don't worry about it, "For this we say to you by the Word of the Lord..." [in other words, by divine revelation] ".... that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will not precede those who have fallen asleep." In other words, there is no inherent advantage to being alive when Jesus comes, and in fact, we're not going to go first; those who have died will. So, don't worry that they're going to miss out; they're actually going to be the first ones to be changed.

Now, verse 16 the first part of verse 16 describes the event itself, "For the Lord Himself will descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God." Stop there. Now, there's a lot of discussion about whether those are three separate events or whether they are two events that are described there, and the voice of the archangel is the shout. We're not going to get into those details tonight. What I want you to see, though, is that it is probably not best to see the Rapture (whenever you think it is) as a "silent" affair with Christians just sort of slipping away unnoticed. As one writer said, "This is one of the noisiest passages in all of Scripture." I agree with him. You've got a shout, you've got the voice of the archangel, you've got the trumpet of God or as Corinthians describes it, the last trumpet. And so, it's noisy. But it's probably best not to see it on the other extreme either and that is that it is transparently obvious to everyone on the earth what has happened.

I think it (and this is just my own hypothesis), I think it's probably best to see it much like what happened that final week of our Lord's life. You remember the Passion week when God Himself spoke from Heaven and said, "This is my Son"? You remember how people responded? They heard the sound, they knew something had happened, but they all differently interpreted the event. I think the same thing will be true of the Rapture. I don't think it's going to be silent. I don't think it's going to be secret in the sense of people won't know something has happened. But I think it's going to be variously interpretive even as it was then. Now, let's continue on in verse 16, "So when that happens [when those, when the shout, the voice of the archangel, the trumpet of God, all occur] the dead in Christ will rise first then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so, we shall always be with the Lord."

Now, there are two distinct events here. There's no question about that in the sense that you have the first he makes it very clear first the dead in Christ will rise. So, those who have fallen asleep in Christ, that is those who are dead in Christ who died believing in Christ, they will rise first. They will be given their glorified bodies first. Then, the second order of events "we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds." So, there's sort of a double event going on here. But according to 1 Corinthians 15 both of those occur in what's called the moment, a moment and the twinkling of an eye. So, while there is a logical order and a chronological order, it is just a moment's time when both of these occur.

Now, that's the basic passage. That's the basic flow of it. Everyone who is honest with the Scripture must agree that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ happens in two phases or two different aspects. The first part of it is that believers, both dead and alive, are caught up in the air with Christ. That passage couldn't be clearer. That will happen. Everyone who's honest with the Scripture believes that. There will be a time when Christ Himself will come in the air; the dead in Christ will rise first in glorified bodies to meet Him in the air; and then those believers still living will be glorified, and they will follow them, but it will all happen in a moment, and they'll all join Christ in the air. That's what this passage teaches, and those who are honest about it all admit that. But there's this second part then. Everyone believes that, and everyone belies that Christ and believers will return to the earth. The real issue and the dividing point is how much time elapses between those phases.

There are two phases of Christ's coming; everybody who is honest with the Scripture agrees on that. The difference is how long between those two phases. Those who hold to a Post-Tribulational view would say that that happens, and then immediately we all leave the air and come back to the earth with Christ. And those of us who are Pre-Tribulational would say no, there is then we go as John 14 seemed to indicate. We go with Christ to the place He's prepared for us while He's been with His Father that is Heaven, and the seven year period elapses before we return with Christ to the earth. I believe the fact that there are two distinguishable parts is a strong argument for the Pre-Tribulation position. But having looked at its defense, I want to take an honest look at its weaknesses. What are the primary weaknesses of the view we hold?

First of all, the "when", that is when the view became popular. It was introduced at least popularly only a hundred and eighty years ago in December of 1826 to January of 1827.

Also, its weakness is by whom it was popularly introduced and that is by John Nelson Darby the father of dispensationalism.

Another weakness is that it's not explicit that is, the absence of an explicit statement of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture.

Another weakness (and by the way) these are gleaned from the writings of those who are opposed to the view I hold. Okay, so I'm just trying to represent some of their arguments, some of the ones they have in common. The connection of 1 Thessalonians 4, the Rapture paragraph we just looked at, and 1 Thessalonians 5 speaking of the Day of the Lord; they would say that because of the unity of this section they must be referring to events that happened in the same chronological time frame not separated by seven years.

For example, Robert Raymond in his excellent systematic theology says about this, "There is no discernible shift in subject matter. Therefore [i.e.] these events must occur in the same time frame."

And, George Alan Ladd defending his position, brings up Revelation 20:4 - 6 and the argument is this: there's the, a resurrection mentioned there, therefore the Rapture; and in the context of Revelation 20 that follows the Tribulation therefore must be a Post-Tribulation Rapture. Now, those are some of the arguments some of the primary weaknesses in our position, and I'll grant those, but that doesn't mean that there aren't some possible answers to those weaknesses. Let's just very briefly look at them.

For example, when ... when it was when it became popularized. Well I, my response to that is it didn't while it may have become popularized back in the early 1800's the concepts and even the expressions of the Rapture predate John Nelson Darby.

For example, the issue of immanency was held by a number of the early church fathers whom I've listed here: Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, the Didache, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas ... all embraced the concept of immanency.

In the early medieval period, in the fourth to sixth centuries, we can't be more specific than that, there's a sermon that has been discovered, called "Sermon on the Last Times, the Antichrist and the End of the World". And that sermon says all the saints and elect of God are gathered prior to the tribulation that is to come and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins.

Starting with the fifth century Augustine's "a millennialism" became the accepted view, and it really wasn't until the Reformation and after that pre-millennialism began to be known again and with it The Rapture.

Joseph Mede became the father of English pre-millennialism with a work in 1627 and with this the Rapture began to be discussed again.

A couple of obscure names, in 1687 one writer wrote: "Christ will return with His saints to Heaven before the end and His final return." John Gill's commentary in 1748, Philip Doddridge in 1738 both speak of an imminent return and use the term "rapture". James MacKnight in 1763 speaks of the "righteous escaping the time of judgement upon the earth."

Now, I show you all that just to tell you that while it's true that many perhaps even most, in fact I would say most, throughout church history have embraced some form of Post-Tribulationism, it's not true that John Nelson Darby created this view. He merely popularized it, and there are many things that he wrote and said that I have no agreement with and would love and will distance myself from.

And that brings us to the second issue, and that is by whom this was popularized. You know it's John Nelson Darby after all, and so what happens is there's some guilt by association; the view must be faulty because look who it was. Well, I mean much that Augustine and Luther said we would reject. I mean don't get me wrong. I'm not saying John Nelson Darby was Augustine or Luther; he absolutely was not. I'm simply saying that we must evaluate each part of his teaching by comparing it to the Scripture and not by attacking the man. If Darby had been a heretic, then everything he wrote would be suspect, but he was not. So, we should be like the Bereans instead and not worry about by whom it was popularized.

What about it's not being explicitly taught anywhere in Scripture? Well, my response to that is there is no explicit statement of the timing of the Rapture for any of the views. So, that is not an argument ... that can stand.

What about the connection between 1 Thessalonians 4 about the Rapture and 1 Thessalonians 5 about the Day of the Lord? If you're still in 1 Thessalonians 4, look at the beginning of verse 5. Paul uses an interesting Greek phrase to begin 5:1. It's translated in our English Bibles as "now". See the little word "now" that begins 1 Thessalonians 5:1? That little phrase "peri de" in the Greek text is used eighteen times in the New Testament. And in all but four, it denotes a change in time or topic.

Paul uses it eight of those fourteen times, or eighteen times; all eight times Paul uses it. It marks a change in topic or time. In fact, you can look right here in this same letter, and you can see it. Look at 1 Thessalonians 4:9: "Now, as to the love of the brethren we have no need for anyone to write to you..." He is changing topics, and if you examine the paragraph before that word, the paragraph after it you can see that as well. So, those who argue, "look you've got these two events closely together with no obvious change in topic. They've got to be together in time that is, the Rapture and that final cataclysmic judgment of God" that doesn't hold water with Paul's views of this little Greek phrase. The language of Thessalonians separates the two paragraphs in topic and in time.

The final weakness I've brought up had to do with Revelation 20. But if you examine that passage (and we will when we get to the Millennium), the only ones that John says there will be resurrected at that time are those who died under the persecution of Antichirst during the Tribulation. Read it carefully. That's what it says. And so, Ladd's argument doesn't stand. He can't say that that resurrection must be the one connected to the Rapture because it doesn't say that. He's reading into that text.

Alright, briefly .... weaknesses of other views. I just want you to know that it's not just the view we hold that has weaknesses. Here are just a couple. Consider the Mid-Tribulation Rapture view. It undermines immanency. You cannot say Christ's return is imminent if you believe there's got to be 3 1/2 years of all this stuff that has to be fulfilled before He returns. And I understand the writings of those who've written. They take different approaches. Often, they will outright deny immanency to support their view. And I cannot ignore those passages that speak of a sudden unexpected return of Christ.

Another argument I'll mention is, it requires a redefinition of God's wrath. This view holds that the Rapture will happen in the middle of the Tribulation because it's really only the second half of the Tribulation in which God will pour out His wrath. I have a problem with that. I understand where that's coming from, but I have a problem with that because the entire period as I've already shown you ( and we'll look at it in more detail when we get to the Tribulation) is characterized as an outpouring of God's wrath. I understand that it's at the end as those bowls are tipped there in Revelation that it gets really intense, but God's wrath is not always cataclysmic. In fact, read Romans 1. How is God's wrath shown in Romans 1? "For the wrath of God pours out on those who have suppressed the truth." How? By giving them over to pursue their own ways. So, God's wrath can take different forms. I believe that whole period is a period of wrath and the Scripture itself seems to indicate that. We'll look at that when we get to the Tribulation. And so, you have to redefine, I think, what wrath is, to come to that view.

What about the Post Trib view? The fact that Christ or the belief that Christ will return at the end of the Tribulation period to catch up the church? Well, the problem I have is they have to deny or redefine those passages that clearly imply immanency. Again, also there are no clear passages that teach the Post-Tribulation Rapture.

If our position is not clearly spelled out in Scripture, and I have to admit that it's not irrefutably spelled out in Scripture, neither is there's. There is no such passage, and in fact, in Revelation where you would expect to read of the church being raptured in conjunction with that Second Coming in Revelation 19, there is no such mention; instead, it's all about God's wrath. Instead, that passage (as I've already shown you) pictures the church returning to earth with Christ from Heaven; uses those very specific words.

I also think that the Post-Tribulation Rapture has a weak exegesis of Revelation 3:10; they don't approach it as, carefully and honestly as they do other texts. And that's just my own opinion obviously. I think they have a shaky historical argument because those who embrace the Post-Trib view will often site church history. They'll say, "Well, this view is the most popular one through church history"; but the modern Post-Trib view is different from what the early church embraced.

And so, f inally, I would say that they ignore the clear sequence of events in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5. Look at the timing you have; you have 1 Thessalonians 4, the Rapture, followed by in 1 Thessalonians 5, the full outpouring of the wrath of God; the natural order or flow of events has the Rapture of believers followed by the Day of the Lord. Now, I haven't listed all of the weaknesses of any of the positions, ours included.

What I want you to see is that there is no position without problems. So, don't be dogmatic about this issue. But at the same time, I can be reasonably confident (and I think you can as well) of the Pre-Tribulational Rapture of the church. On the other hand, as I said last week in closing, my faith would not be shaken if the Tribulation began tomorrow and I'm still here. I'd be disappointed, but my faith wouldn't be shaken, and yours shouldn't be either.

Now, one last thing, and I'll let you go; its usefulness. There are several things that we should learn from the Rapture. First of all, we should live in expectation of Christ's return. Honestly, this is true whatever view you hold, but if it's imminent in the sense that He could return at any moment with that in mind we are to be ready. I love what Titus 2 says. Paul writes to Titus and he says that

… the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to all men; instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires; to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age. [To live looking; to live looking. I love that. We are to live] looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus….

We're to live in expectation of Christ's return. Is that really true of you? Do you really do that? Do you really anticipate that return?

Secondly, we are to use the Rapture to find comfort and to comfort others when facing the death of believers. That's how Paul finishes that passage in 1 Thessalonians 4, "Comfort one another with these words." Christ is coming and that person who's died, they're going to be glorified they're going to come with Christ, and they're going to be united with a glorified body. This is going to happen. Be comforted in this. There's hope.

Third, be steadfast in the knowledge of His imminent coming. Be steadfast. James 5:8 says, "Strengthen your hearts for the coming of the Lord is near." Strengthen your hearts. You can face the persecution is what James was telling his readers because Christ is coming. Treat other Christians with kindness and respect.

James 5:9 goes on to say, "Do not complain, brethren, against one another." And why? For two reasons: because God's judgment is impartial but also because God's judgment is imminent. "Behold the judge is standing right at the door." We're to treat each other kindly and gently because the One who will judge you and the One who will judge your brother, it's as if He's standing at the door of His, of His courtroom ready to throw the door doors open at any moment.

We're to pray more in light of the imminent return of Christ. 1 Peter 4:7, "The end of all things is near; therefore be of sound judgement and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer." We're to be faithful in assembling ourselves together as believers. Hebrews 10 reminds us that as we see the end coming, we are not to forsake our own assembling together. Be diligent to connect with other believers in the context of a local church. Be diligent to pursue holiness. John tells us in 1 John 3,

Beloved, now we are the children of God, and … [it's] not … [yet] appeared … what we … [shall] be. [but] We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself just as He is pure.

Are you pursuing holiness because you know Jesus is coming? That's what John said. And finally, and I love this .... rejoice that you will never experience the wrath of God. Neither in the Great Tribulation nor in eternity. Romans 5,

Much more then, having been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled we shall be saved by His life.

Folks, Christ is coming. And He will, regardless of when that is, He will rescue us from the wrath that is to come.

Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for our study this evening. Thank You for this great truth. Help us to live looking. Father, I pray that You would give us hearts that long for His return and that live alertly, expectantly, waiting for that return, living as if it could be at any moment. Father, I pray that You would hasten the return of Your Son. Lord, we cry out, "Come quickly, Lord Jesus!"

It's in His great name that we ask it. Amen.

Systematic Theology