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Waiting for the Rapture
"Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. . ." 1 Thessalonians 4:17
All the longings of every Christian are summed up by John's last words in Revelation when he says, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22:20). What rapture it will be when, "It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is shown in weakness; it is raised in power" (1 Corinthians 15:44)!
Even the possibility of a "rapture" for some not-so-Christian people has become a subject of intense fascination as we approach the beginning of a new Millennium. How else could the novel on the rapture, Apollyon: The Destroyer is Unleashed, hit the NEW YORK TIMES bestseller list?
Popular expectations surrounding the return of Christ and the gathering of his people are tied in with a period of "Seven Years' Tribulation." Some feel Christ will first take his church secretly before these seven years (Pre-Tribulation); some feel it will be in the middle (Mid-Tribulation); some after (Post-Tribulation). And yet another view: Partial-Rapturism asserts that some will be taken before, during and the rest after. (RE-THINKING THE RAPTURE, pp. 24, 25) In any case, it is generally understood, "one shall be taken, and the other shall be left" (Luke 17:34). Then, many expect, after a temple is built in Jerusalem, abominable worship established and 144,000 converted Jews try to save others-Christ will come with his church and begin the 1,000-year reign.
What was the Apostle Paul, by inspiration, really telling us? He was teaching us that those who have fallen asleep through the Christian Age would be raised first when Christ would return from heaven. Those living at the time would not precede those who slept, but afterward would join them in the same place. "We who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. . .Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to met the Lord in the air. . . (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 NAS). "Together" here means the same place-not the same time. "Together" means place or location just as it does a few verses later when Paul says, "we may live together with him" (1 Thessalonians 5:10). The place is the "air." Satan, the "god of this world," has been invisibly ruling as the "prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2). Jesus returns as a King invading Satan's domain setting up his own Kingdom.
The "dead in Christ" rise first. Afterward those saints who are "alive and remain till the coming ["presence," Gk.] of the Lord" join them. They do not need to sleep to wait for Christ to return! Paul elsewhere explains, "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump..."(1 Corinthians 15:51,52). Thus those who were asleep are raised instantaneously upon Christ's return from heaven. But those who die in the Lord from "henceforth"when he has returned"rest from their labors and their works do follow" (Revelation 14:13). One by one-as they prove "faithful unto death" (Revelation 2:10)"in a twinkling of an eye" each will join Jesus and the brethren who preceded. They join in one place, not at one time.
But didn't Jesus say, "one taken, and the other left" (Luke 17:36)? If a driver of a car is a Christian, wouldn't he just be "taken"? If an airline pilot is a Christian, won't he just be "taken"? On the contrary, a careful look at the texts reveals that the ones on the "housetop" are warned not to go inside to take their things. There is time for choices! The one in the "field" should not decide to "return back" to his house before leaving. Furthermore, they are not being snatched away to heaven. But then, where are they going? The apostles, in fact, asked this logical question, "Where, Lord?" (Luke 17:37)
Jesus answered-as he usually did in symbolic language"Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together." Faithful Christians are being gathered to a spiritual feast when he returns! Some respond to the opportunity. Some do not. Jesus, who had been saying to his church through the age, "Behold, I come quickly," finally says, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him and he with me" (Revelation 3:11, 20). In keeping with one of the signs of his return, Jesus said he would provide "meat in due season" (Matthew 24:45).
Therefore, the "carcass" to which we as eagles are gathered could not be the Lord's fleshly body in heaven. He is spirit now (1 Corinthians 15:45). (We would not be eating his flesh in heaven anyway!) So some would be teachers "grinding at the mill" when the Lord would return. Some would be in the "field"in the worldnot connected with any church ("house"). Some would be very comfortably lying in their creedbeds (Isaiah 23:20) when Jesus would return. The test would be, Would Christians be spiritually sleeping or spiritually awake to understand that Jesus had returned as a "thief"? Would they be investigating God's "times and seasons" in the Scriptures? Would they understand the "signs" Jesus had given his disciples to confirm that he had returned invisibly? If Jesus' disciples would be ready, they would feast on the truths the returned Lord would provide. They would understand he had returned!
Tribulation was one of the signs Jesus gave for his return. "Then shall be great tribulation such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matthew 24:32). The world has known trouble for a long time, but this trouble would be without precedent. Christ's peaceable Kingdom is established in a time of trouble.
Just what would happen in this "great tribulation"? Do we know how long it would last? Why do some Christians believe Christ first comes secretly to take his saints before the worst of it? Jesus, in fact, does come like a "thief in the night" and faithful Christians are admonished not to be spiritually asleep so they would not know the "day of the Lord" had arrived (1 Thessalonians 5:1-6). Thieves do not enter a house with trumpets or shouts. That is why Paul when talking about Jesus descending from "heaven with a shout...and with the trump of God," is warning God's people that they should not be spiritually sleeping." Therefore let us not sleep as do others..." They hear a trumpet message and the "shout" of encouragement. He really does come secretly for his saints while the rest of the world sleeps on....
Just as "business as usual" was going on in Noah's day, so it would be in the days of the Son of man. "And as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives..." (Luke 17:26,27). Unless one was spiritually awake-investigating the time prophecies and reading the signs-he or she would not know Christ had returned and was assembling his resurrected saints in the "air"!
Actually, Jesus was quoting from Daniel's prophecy regarding signs of Messiah's return to take authority over the earth. And there were others signs besides tribulation and trouble. "And at that time shall Michael ["who as God," Jesus] stand up the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people [Israel], and there shall be a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation...many shall run to and fro and knowledge shall be increased" (Daniel 12:1,4). During "the time of trouble," there would also occur a restoration of Israel! Jesus mentions that sign in his prophecy too-the blossoming "fig tree" (Matthew 24:32). Sounds like our times.... Never have we seen the potential for global annihilation. "This century," says former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in THE NEW YORK TIMES, 4/21/99, "has been the bloodiest in history. Over 160 million human beings have been killed in various conflicts and that number rises each day." But never have we enjoyed such travel and communication as we have been experiencing since the last century. Never have we seen a dead and scattered nation like Israel after 2,000 years come back to life as in our time!
How could the tribulation be only seven years? The idea of seven years, actually, is borrowed from a prophecy in Daniel about Christ's first advent--not his second! While in Babylon, Daniel was informed that "seventy weeks" of favor from God would be given to his people to prepare them for the coming Messiah. A week would equal prophetic seven daysor seven years. So 7 x 70 would equal 490 years beginning with the "commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem" (Daniel 9:16-27). Seven weeks or 49 years would be spent in rebuilding Jerusalem, "even in troublous times" where Messiah would present himself to his people. Then sixty two weeks (or 434 years) more of just waiting for Messiah. At the beginning of the last "week," Messiah would present himself.
Precisely 483 years after Nehemiah's commission to rebuild Jerusalem, Jesus presented himself as Messiah at the Jordan River! Right in the middle of this last week of God's favor, alas, the Jewish people rejected their Messiah. After 3½ yearsanticipating his rejectionJesus sorrowfully said, "Your house in left unto you desolate..." But still, although as a nation cast off, special favor to the Jewish common people themselves continued the last 3½ years until the first Gentile convert, Cornelius. Thus the last seven years of the prophecy was fulfilled. A "seven years' tribulation," therefore, cannot be applied to the second advent from this prophecy!
Although the tribulation associated with Jesus' return is much longer than seven yearsstill the good that will come from it will be more than compensated in Christ's 1,000-year Kingdom. Yes, this tribulation has begun already, and it will get worse. Yes, the saints have been gathering secretly to be with the Lord. But for those left behind when all the faithful Christians are all resurrected, there will be much joy and relief. "For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God" (Romans 8:19 NAS). When Christ with his bride as "the holy city, new Jerusalem" is revealed to the rest of the worldthen all the longings of mankind, those left behind, will also begin to be fulfilled (Revelation 21:1-5).
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