The word ‘rapture’ is one that most Christians will have come across at some time or another. However it is a sad fact that the subject is rarely discussed or explained from the pulpit, leaving many confused and uncertain as to what, and who, to believe.
It would seem that many people prefer to ignore what they see as controversial subjects rather than search for the truth. However, Jesus Himself rebuked the Pharisees for not discerning the signs of the times (Matt 16:3); He also told His disciples not to be deceived. But unless we know what is true, how can we know if we are being led astray? The Apostle Paul, in his letters, urges Christians ‘not to be ignorant’. And time and time again we are warned in scripture that false teachers will come into the church, teaching the things that people want to hear (2 Tim 4:3), but not teaching the truth. Not surprisingly, we read that many will follow them (2 Peter 2:2).
These false teachers will sound convincing, and the message they bring will seem plausible. This is to be expected, because the mark of a good counterfeit is that it is so close to the original that it is hard to distinguish between the two. The difference is that one can be deadly. Renowned author and speaker Dave Hunt uses the analogy of Rat poison. Rat poison is 99.95% nutritious – that is why the rats like it! Only 0.05% is poison, but that is enough to kill them.
In John 16:13 we read that the Holy Spirit came to ‘guide us into all truth’, and in 1 Corinthians 2:9-10 Paul quotes from the Old Testament saying: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those who love Him”. Most commentators stop at this point, but Paul continues: “BUT GOD HAS REVEALED THEM TO US THROUGH HIS SPIRIT”! We are told in Philippians 2:12 to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling”; clearly the onus is on each of us to find out and understand – it is not an exaggeration to say that our eternity may depend on it! (see 1 Tim 4:16)
What does ‘rapture’ mean?
As we come to the subject of the Rapture, the first question we should address is, what does ‘rapture’ mean?, or rather, what do we mean by the word ‘rapture’? In order to answer this, it would be helpful to look at some Biblical examples.
In the book of Genesis we read of a man called Enoch. Enoch had a son and named him Methuselah; “After he begot Methuselah, Enoch walked with God three-hundred years, and had sons and daughters. So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty five years. And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.” (Gen 5 22-24). In the book of 2 Kings ch.2 we read how God ‘carried’ Elijah to heaven in a whirlwind. In both of these accounts, men of God were ‘caught up’, ‘snatched away’ or, if you will, ‘raptured’. In the book of Revelation there is another example of this being ‘caught up’ to heaven. In chapter 11 we read of a time yet to come when two ‘witnesses’ (Moses & Elijah?) will stand in Jerusalem and prophesy for three and a half years. At the end of this time they will be killed but after three and a half days “the breath of life from God entered them and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them.” Finally, probably the most well known example is recorded in the book of Acts, when Jesus Himself was taken up into a cloud as the disciples looked on (see Acts 1:9-11).
So, to put it simply, ‘rapture’ is the word commonly used to describe this being taken up alive into heaven from earth. It has often been asked if the word occurs in the Bible. The answer is yes, and no! In 1 Thessalonians 4:17 we find that the phrase ‘caught up’ comes from the Greek word ‘harpazo’ which means to snatch away, to lift, transport, pluck, carry away or rapture. However in the Latin Vulgate translation, which was translated about 400AD (Vulgate is the Latin word for ‘common’ or ‘popular’), the word ‘harpazo’ is actually translated as ‘rapturus’, from which we derive the word ‘rapture’. So whilst the word ‘rapture’ is not found in modern translations of the bible, it has been used in the past.
The big question
Clearly from scripture, we can see that people have been raptured in the past, and will be in the future. The big question is: does the Bible say that the Church will be raptured at some point in the future, and if so, when, and just as importantly, why? The purpose of this leaflet is to answer these questions.
Only one place to find the answer
As always, we must turn to the word of God if we are to find the answer to any of these questions. We must always be cautious of man’s opinion, unless it is firmly rooted in the word of God. Man is fallible, the word of God shows in many irrefutable ways that it is the infallible, inspired word of a Creator God who is outside of our time domain; a God who knows ‘the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done’ (Isaiah 46:10). Regardless of what church tradition, or popular opinion may have us believe, if it is not in accord with the word of God, then it is not in accord with the word of God! Paul said to Timothy: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15) We must be like the Bereans in Acts chapter 17, who ‘received the word with all readiness, and searched the scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so’.
Will the Church be raptured?
So as we ponder this question, let us start by turning to the word of God. In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians we find the following passage “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thess 4:13-18)
Paul starts this passage by stating his desire that Christians should not be ignorant regarding our Christian friends and families who have died. Unlike the world, we have a hope – and that hope is, that at some point in the future, Christ will bring with Him all those who have died ‘in the faith’ and we will see them again! We know from scripture that Jesus returned to heaven after His ascension and ‘sat down at the right hand of God’ (Heb 8:10 / Heb 10:12). We also know that when we die as Christians we will ‘be with the Lord’ – in Heaven (2 Cor 5:8). So all those who have died in the faith have gone to heaven and will come back with Jesus at this time.
Paul goes on to explain that when they return they will rise, and along with all the Christians still alive on Earth at that time, will be given new bodies fit for eternity. This is made clear in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian Christians: “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15: 50-54)
So both, the Christians who are dead that will come back with Jesus, and those who are still alive on earth at that time, will receive new supernatural bodies that won’t decay! We will all then rise to meet the Lord in the air. All of this will happen “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” and Paul tells us that from that point on, we will always be with the Lord! This, he says, should be a great comfort to us.
In fact, in his letter to Titus, Paul referrers to this event as our blessed hope! “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ,” (Titus 2:13-14)
And to the Philippians, Paul said that this event was like a prize that should motivate us as we live the Christian life: “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus“. (Phil 3:13-15)
A few verses further on Paul adds: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” (Phil 3:20-21)
So as we can see, the scripture teaches us, that at some time in the future, the Church will be raptured and will receive new incorruptible bodies. The next question is, when will this happen?
The coming Tribulation
From prophecies in Daniel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Matthew and Revelation, we know that the last years of this age will be a time of ‘tribulation’. This tribulation will be the outpouring of God’s wrath on an unbelieving world that has turned its back on God. Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, countless scriptures in the Old and New Testaments, and of course the book of Revelation make it clear; God will not remain silent, He will bring His judgement. ”The Lord is not slack concerning His promise (the promise of His coming), as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
Regarding the coming time of trouble, the prophet Isaiah said: “Wail, for the day of the LORD is at hand! It will come as destruction from the Almighty. Therefore all hands will be limp, every man’s heart will melt, and they will be afraid. Pangs and sorrows will take hold of them; they will be in pain as a woman in childbirth; they will be amazed at one another; their faces will be like flames. Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and He will destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be darkened in its going forth, and the moon will not cause its light to shine. “I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will halt the arrogance of the proud, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.” (Isaiah 13:6-11)
From the books of Daniel and Revelation we find that this tribulation period will last for 7 years – or to be more precise 2520 days, which is 7 years based on a 360-day year. (Rev 11:3 / Rev 12:6 / Daniel 9:27) The first three and a half years (1260 days) will be ‘the beginning of sorrows’ as foretold by Jesus in Matthew 24:8. The last three and a half years (or the second period of 1260 days) will be ‘the Great Tribulation’ (Matt 24:21) or ‘time of Jacob’s trouble’ (Jer 30:7), and will climax with the Second Coming of Jesus.
So, returning to our question, the two most popular views regarding the timing of the Rapture are that it will either occur at the end of the 7 years, and will be a ‘phase’ of the Second Coming, or it will take place before the 7 years begin. These two views are known as ‘post-tribulation’ and ‘pretribulation’. Obviously, only one of these views can be correct, and once again, scripture itself is the place where we must start.
As we look at the details surrounding the Second Coming we find that when Jesus returns, it will not be just a fleeting visit. Whereas, one of the main purposes of the Rapture is to take the Church back to heaven as we will see.
Daniel, in interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel ch2), makes it clear that when Jesus comes back at the Second Coming He will be like a Rock that crushes the governments of this world and establishes His own kingdom that will ‘fill the earth’. When the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was going to give birth to the Messiah, he told her that Jesus would sit on the ‘throne of His father David’ (Luke1:32). David’s throne was an earthly throne located in Jerusalem. However the throne of David did not exist when Jesus came the first time, the Romans were in charge. So unless Gabriel got it wrong, this has to refer to a time yet to come. Many other passages in both the Old and New Testaments make this absolutely clear, Jesus will return to judge and rule on the earth. So as we study these two events, we see that the Second Coming and the Rapture are distinct and separate events that therefore cannot occur at the same time.
At the Rapture, Jesus’ feet do not touch the ground. At the Second Coming, He puts His feet on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. At the rapture Jesus comes for His Bride (the Church); at the Second Coming He comes with her. This is made clear in Jude 14-15: “Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” At the Second Coming, Jesus returns from heaven to the earth with His saints following Him. Although it is stating the obvious, in order for the saints to come back with Him, they must have gone to be with Him first!
Another verse that confirms this is found in the book of Revelation. In chapter 19, as Jesus leaves heaven to come to earth for the Second Coming we read: “Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the
nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” The armies in heaven, ‘clothed in fine linen, white and clean’, is a clear reference to the saints – the Church, the Bride of Christ, as is explained earlier in chapter 19: “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” (Rev 19:7-8) So, if heaven opens and Jesus leaves, followed by the saints, we must be in heaven. If we are in heaven we must have gone there, i.e been raptured, prior to this event!
The fact that the rapture would happen, and that the Church would return with Jesus to heaven was actually explained to the disciples be Jesus Himself. On the last night that Jesus and the disciples were together, He sat them down for His longest recorded talk. He explained that He had to go ‘away’ but that He would send His Holy Spirit to comfort them and lead them into all truth. The disciples were saddened and concerned that Jesus may be leaving them. So Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.” (John 13:36)
We know from other verses latter in this passage that Jesus was talking about returning to His Father in heaven. Clearly He says to Simon Peter that although Peter couldn’t follow now, he would follow on eventually. But Jesus didn’t just leave it there; He went on to make it absolutely certain: “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And 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.” (John 13:36-14:4)
Not only did Jesus promise that He would go on ahead and ‘prepare a place’ for them in heaven, but He also explained that He would return and ‘receive them to Himself’, “that where I am, there you may be also”. Jesus continued: “You have heard Me say to you, ‘I am going away and coming back to you.’ If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’ for My Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe.” (John 14:28-29)
Jesus told the disciples that He was returning to His Father in heaven. At some point in the future He would return, ‘receive them to Himself’ and take them back to heaven to the place He had prepared. It is clear then, from the Bible, that the Rapture and Second Coming are two separate and distinct events, each for a particular purpose in God’s overall plan.
‘You are not in darkness’
In 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, Paul says “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labour pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape.” In this verse Paul echoes Jesus’ words regarding ‘the day of the Lord’; however, Paul then goes on to say: “But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day (the day of the Lord) should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.”
In this passage, Paul explains that Christians are not in darkness, and that we will not be overtaken by the day of the Lord, and that God will not allow us to experience His wrath. Therefore the Rapture must occur before the day of the Lord begins in earnest. This is why it was such a comfort to the Thessalonian Christians. If the Rapture were not to occur until the Second Coming, it wouldn’t have been much of a comfort for them to have known they would have to endure earthquakes, famines, pestilences, wars and rumors of wars, and that is just the start!
The idea of escaping God’s wrath was not something just taught by Paul; it is found throughout scripture. For example, in Luke 21, after giving His disciples a briefing on the things that would happen prior to His Second Coming, Jesus said to them: “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34-37)
The options that Jesus gives, are 1) to live being weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the cares of this life – and find that the day of the Lord has come on you ‘like a thief in the night’ OR, 2) live a life “worthy of the calling with which you were called” (Eph 4:1) and escape from the judgment that is coming.
Jesus promised His disciples that there would be a way of escaping the coming Tribulation. Again, this is amplified in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 where Paul says that we are “to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” We even find Old Testament references to God protecting His people through this time: Psalm 27:4-6 says: “One thing I have desired of the LORD, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in His temple. for in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock. and now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me; therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the LORD.”
Now, skeptics may suggest that this verse has nothing to do with the Tribulation; but we do know that many Psalms are both applicable to the time the psalmist was living in, and also prophetic, looking forward to future events, as I believe this one is here. Regardless, it again underlines the fact that God will keep His people from a time of trouble.
Another even clearer reference to this is found in Isaiah 26:19-21. “Your dead shall live; Together with my dead body they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust; For your dew is like the dew of herbs, And the earth shall cast out the dead. Come, my people, enter your chambers, And shut your doors behind you; Hide yourself, as it were, for a little moment, Until the indignation is past. For behold, the LORD comes out of His place To punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity; The earth will also disclose her blood, And will no more cover her slain.”
The whole of this chapter is looking forward to God delivering Israel and judging the nations of the earth – something that we know will take place during the Tribulation. There is then this reference to those who have died, being resurrected – and singing! If you study the occasions in scripture where groups of people are resurrected and have cause to sing, there is really only one that fits, and that is at the time of the Rapture when ‘the dead in Christ will rise first….’ “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.” (1 Corinthians 15:22-24)
NB: Notice that even in this verse from 1st Corinthians, the resurrection of the saints is before ‘the end’ begins.
Our above passage in Isaiah then goes on to show God hiding His people in their chambers while His indignation is poured out on the inhabitants of Earth, to punish them for their iniquity. It doesn’t get clearer than this! In the book of Genesis we read the story of Lot who was living in Sodom. Before God could bring His judgment, He had to remove Lot; because God is just, He cannot judge the righteous with the wicked. (Gen 18:25)
Noah was shut safely in the ark before one drop of rain fell. Not only did God make sure Noah and his family were inside, God Himself actually shut the door! (See Gen 7:16) In Amos 3:7 we read: “Surely the Lord does nothing unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets”. As we have seen, God has indeed revealed this most incredible of secrets to His servants, and the prophet Zephaniah declared: “Seek the Lord all you meek of the earth, who have upheld His justice. Seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be that you will be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger” (Zephaniah 2:3)
A major issue
For those who say that there will not be a rapture, or that the rapture is just a ‘phase’ of the second coming, the only option is to accept that the Church will go through the time of tribulation. i.e. the Church will be subject to God’s wrath along with the rest of the world. However, as Christians our sin was ‘judged’ at Calvary on the cross; so are we to be judged twice? Was Jesus’ death not sufficient? The issue of the Rapture is not about ‘differences in doctrine’, it is fundamental to the message of the cross. Either Jesus’ death was sufficient or it wasn’t. If, as we know, it was sufficient, then we have already been judged, and therefore have no need to go through the tribulation. Jesus will indeed ‘deliver us from the wrath to come’. All praise to His name!
The Rapture of the Church, as explained in scripture, could occur at any moment. The saints will be taken back to heaven and a time of tribulation will start on the earth.
Where are we now?
The day of the Lord is on the horizon. The world scene is almost set for the rise of the coming world leader who is generally referred to as Antichrist (Rev 13 / 2 Thes 2:8-10). The old Roman Empire – east and west – is being revived in fulfillment of the prophecies in Daniel and Revelation. It will not be long before Babylon in Iraq emerges as a centre for world government and trade (Rev 17 & 18). Just as the Bible predicted, “evil men and impostors are growing worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2 Tim 3:13)
2 Timothy 3:1-4 now reads like a column in a daily newspaper: “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lover of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God”
God is long suffering, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). However, the clock is ticking and judgment is coming. The world is looking for, and talking about ‘peace and safety’, but ‘when they say peace and safety then sudden destruction will come upon them like a thief in the night’ (1 Thes 5:3). The Bible says that people will become so desperate that they will hide in rocks and caves to try to escape from the wrath of God (Rev 6:12-17). They will also try to commit suicide but God will not allow them (Rev 9:6) The earth will become a living nightmare for those who are left behind. It is no coincidence that there are so many disaster movies coming out in recent times that depict global catastrophes, invasions from space that threaten to end life as we know it, asteroids on a collision course with earth, and the list goes on. People are being conditioned and subconsciously trained to accept these things as the norm, so that when the things described in the book of Revelation (chapter 6 onwards) start to happen, people will try to explain it away rather than turn to God and repent. The picture is bleak; very bleak.
The only hope is that ‘you be ‘found worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man’. The Bible makes it clear that no one can be worthy by their own efforts; only by accepting Jesus’ death in your place, and starting a new life in Him will anyone be found worthy. If you are a Christian, then the picture is far from bleak. For if you are ready and waiting for Jesus to return, knowing that He will deliver us from the wrath to come, we have a great hope and are eagerly awaiting all He has prepared for those who love Him. Indeed the Rapture is our blessed hope.
Throughout the history of the Church, people have lived in expectation, being like the wise virgins in Matthew 25, ready to go at a moments notice. After the Holy Spirit filled Church is raptured, the world will enter this time of tribulation (2 Thes 2:7) that will last for 7 years and culminate in the infamous ‘Battle of Armageddon’ when the nations of the world will march against God’s chosen people – the Jews (Rev 16:12-16 / Zech 12 & 13). At this time, according to the prophet Hosea (Hosea 5:15), Israel will cry out to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the God of the Bible, and acknowledge their sin. They will accept Jesus as their Messiah and He will then return with His Bride, to deliver Israel and set up His kingdom on earth for 1000 years, reigning from His capitol city, Jerusalem (Rev 19).
Arriving in Heaven
Let us turn our attention now to focus on the events that will take place in heaven, for all those who escape the wrath to come. From various scriptures we find that when ‘we’ arrive (it assumed that by now you don’t want to stay on the earth!), the first thing to happen is what can best be described as an award ceremony for God’s faithful servants.
Those who have ‘put their treasure in heaven’ (Matt 6:19-21) will receive rewards; those who have lived with one foot in the world and wasted opportunities, well, it’s best to let the word of God explain……
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Cor 5:10) “…….each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (1Cor 3:13-15)
This ‘judgment seat of Christ’ has nothing to do with sin. Our sin was dealt with on the cross, once and for all – (NB: Obviously this only can apply to Christians who have repented and accepted Jesus as their own personal Saviour). The judgment seat of Christ is an assessment of how Christians have lived, whether they have been faithful with the ‘talents’ they have been given (see Matt 25:14-30).
It is clear from scripture that one of the rewards that will be given to those who have ‘taken up their cross’ and followed Jesus (Matt 16:24-27) will be crowns. These crowns are then given back to Jesus as a love gift. This is all detailed in Revelation chapter 4 and 5 from which comes the inspiration for the hymn ‘Crown Him with many crowns’. So many Christians have sung this hymn without realising that they are singing about this time!
As an interesting aside, the structure of the book of Revelation is very interesting. After the introduction in chapters 1 and 2, we have the letters to the 7 churches, which, as well as being letters that were sent to 7 literal churches in Asia Minor (Turkey), also map out the entire history of the Church throughout the centuries. After the letters to the churches, or church ages, we see an open door in heaven at the start of chapter 4, and a “voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here” (Again, spot the similarities with 1 Thes 4:16-17!).
Chapters 4 and 5 clearly show the Church in heaven wearing their crowns. However after this point the Church is only seen in heaven. The tribulation starts in chapter 6 and most of the book of Revelation is then taken up with the events that take place back on the earth as God pours out His wrath. The next time we really see the Church is in chapter 19 when we get ready to follow Jesus back down to earth for the Second Coming.
Coming, ready or not!
As we have already briefly mentioned, Jesus told a parable in Matthew 25 about some wise and foolish virgins: “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ “Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ “But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ “And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ “But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” (Matt 25:1-13) As we read this, we find that the ‘kingdom of heaven is like….’ In a very real sense the kingdom of heaven can be viewed as the Church, and therefore, the Church viewed as the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven where Jesus is Lord and reigning at the moment is in the hearts of His people – the Church. “For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)
“One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God begin?” Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God isn’t ushered in with visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘It has begun here in this place or there in that part of the country.’ For the Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21 The Living Bible)
All of the parables in Matthew 13, for example, are in reference to the Church, not of course a religious group or denomination; but the true Church that Jesus came to build – It is important to understand that there are many in the so-called ‘church’ that are not really part of the body of Christ (see Matt 13’s parable of the wheat and tares). So, ‘the kingdom of heaven is like…..’ = ‘the true Church, the body of Christ is like….’
As we look at this example, we find that the Church is like two distinct groups, those who are ready and those who are not. Those who are ready and waiting have their lamps filled with oil. It is interesting to note that the Church is represented as a lamp in scripture (Matt 5:14-16 / Rev 1:12-13, 20 / Rev 2:1). The Church is not the light, in the same way that a lamp is not the light; the lamp simply bears the light as the oil burns within it. The Holy Spirit is often represented by oil, and Christians should bear the light of Jesus, who is the Light of the world, as the Holy Spirit burns within them. From the picture that Jesus gives we can see that the wise ones, with their lamps full of oil, resemble Christians who are full of the Holy Spirit, and are therefore ready and waiting for Jesus’ return (“The Spirit and the Bride say ‘Come’” – Rev 22:17).
God’s will for all of us is that we be ‘sanctified’ (1 Thes 4:3), set apart from this world (1 John 2:15). This is the only way that Christians can be truly full of the Holy Spirit, as they surrender all to Jesus and become empty of themselves; so much of the New Testament deals with this theme. The second group of virgins in Jesus’ example – those who were not ready – were complacent and not expecting the Bridegroom’s imminent return.
In scripture Jesus is seen as a Bridegroom; and when the bridegroom in the story eventually arrives, there is a great shout! (re-read 1 Thes 4:16!). The next thing we read is that the foolish ones realise that they have ‘missed the boat’ and cry out ‘Lord, Lord’, Jesus replies that He never knew them! (Does this sound familiar? See Matt 7:13-23). The wise ones are then taken with the Bridegroom to the wedding feast! It is no coincidence that this story is a model of what will happen at the time of the Rapture, and indeed “To those who eagerly wait for Him (The wise virgins – un-spotted by this world) He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.” (Heb 9:28) 2 Tim 4:8 says “Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” For those who have loved His appearing, those who eagerly await Him, they will be taken back to the place that Jesus has prepared for them – in His Father’s house. (John 14:2-3)
A Jewish wedding
Most of us in our western culture will know little or nothing about a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony. However, to Jesus and His disciples, the following would have been very familiar.
Marriage to the Jews is extremely serious, it is a ‘holy institution’ ordained by God. Its very name in Hebrew, ‘Kiddushin’, means “sanctification”. In 1 Thes 4:3 we read: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification, that you should abstain from sexual immorality”. If God’s will for the Church is that we be married to His Son, how appropriate that our being ‘set apart’ (sanctified), and our remaining pure should be joined together in this verse.
typical Jewish wedding is separated into two parts, 1) the ‘Ketubah’ (Betrothal), and 2) the ‘Huppah’ (wedding ceremony), which is followed by the conclusion/wedding feast, ‘Nisuin’. This is very much like our engagement, which would be followed by the wedding day/Reception. The Ketubah to a Jew however, is a far more serious commitment than we tend to view an engagement. The Ketubah is in fact a marriage contract between the groom and his bride. After the groom has purchased his bride, he draws up a contract in which he undertakes to give all that he has in order to provide for every need of his bride, not only while he is alive, but also in the event of his death. This is exactly what Jesus has done for us. He has purchased us, and has written a new covenant in His blood to ensure His bride – the Church – has been given ‘exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think’ (Ephesians 3:20).
To mark this contract, the Jewish groom and bride drink from a cup of wine. Our agreement was sealed in an upper room (Matt 26:28) where the Groom shared a cup of wine and said “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” (Matt 26:29) After this, it is customary for the Chatan (groom) and Kallah (bride) to remain apart for the time leading up to the wedding day. During this time the groom will return to his father’s house to prepare a room for his bride. Our Groom said: “I go to prepare a place for you. And 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.” (John 14:3)
The bride, meanwhile, will visit the ritual bath known as the Mikveh. The purpose of this is so that she can cleanse herself spiritually and enter marriage in a state of complete purity – without spot or blemish.
One part of the ritual includes removing all manmade things (such as jewellery and nail polish etc) and then being fully immersed in water while reciting a special prayer. She is supervised and assisted during the ritual to ensure it is done correctly. This is incredible! The Holy Spirit has been given for the Church to prepare us to meet our Bridegroom. We too should be fully immersed in the water of God’s word, so that we should be without spot or blemish (Eph 5:25- 32). We should purge ourselves of all that is in this world, “For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)
At the appointed time, the Jewish groom will then return with a shout and a blast of a ram’s horn to claim his bride and take her back to the ‘Huppah’, which is traditionally held at his father’s house. By entering the house, the woman is declaring her official independence from her family and accepting the protection of her husband. What a parallel this is to the Rapture when there will be a blast of a trumpet and a shout, and then we will rise to meet Jesus in the air. As with a Jewish wedding we will also go back to the Father’s house, thus forever severing our ties with this world. For a Jew, the wedding ceremony now begins and the couple say their ‘vows’ reciting ‘the seven blessings’ whilst holding a second cup of wine. These blessings begin with 1) praising God for His creation in general, then 2) praising Him for making man in His image, 3) then praising Him for making a “two part creature”, man and woman, 4) then acknowledging that only together can they be complete. 5) In the fifth blessing they pray for the restoration of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. 6) The sixth blessing expresses the hope that the bride and groom will grow in love for each other, focusing their love as exclusively as Adam and Eve, when there was no one else in the world. 7) Then finally, the seventh blessing is a prayer for the Messiah to come and redeem the Jews from exile, so that peace and tranquility will reign over the world.
Once the seven blessings have been said, a Jewish couple will drink from the second cup of wine and the marriage is sealed. Again, Jesus said: “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” (Matt 26:29) After this comes the wedding feast and celebration, usually accompanied by much singing and dancing! At the end of this, the Sheva Brachot, the wedding blessing, is pronounced. The same is true for the Church, for in Rev 19:6-9 our own ‘Sheva Brachot’ will be pronounced.
In Matthew 22:2-3 we read “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son…” If God has indeed arranged a marriage for His Son, is it surprising that it has been arranged to model a Jewish wedding, when His Son was in fact born as a Jew?
The Rapture really is far more than just a doctrinal issue. It is, or should be, the hope of the Church. “To those who eagerly wait for Him, He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.” (Heb 9:28)
We must lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, pressing toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.. For we are not of this world, our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also we should be eagerly awaiting our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! “For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counsellor?” For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be all the glory and all the praise, now and forever. Amen.
(Phil 3:13-14 / John 15:18 / Phil 3:20-21 /Rom 11:33-36 )
“He shall call to the heavens from above, And to the earth, that He may judge His people: “Gather My saints together to Me, Those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice.” Let the heavens declare His righteousness, For God Himself is Judge.” (Ps 50:4-6)
Appendix A – Where is the Blessed Hope in today’s Church?
Appendix B – The 7 Blessings – A checklist for Christ’s Bride?
Appendix A: Where is the Blessed Hope in today’s Church?
In the last 100 years of church history we have seen a gradual eroding of the Word of God by supposedly Bible believing churches. At a conference some years ago a major denomination took the decision not to preach or discuss ‘end times’ issues in their churches. They are not alone. Many will not preach on the ‘end times’ because it is apparently divisive. Others see it as a distraction that takes us away from our task of ‘evangelizing the world’.
Maybe these people choose not to read their Bibles, because rather than a powerful revival-driven church that claims the world and converts the masses, the Bible actually says: Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; (1 Tim 4:1) The Holy Spirit clearly wants to get this point across, that whilst we may see revivals – and let’s all pray that we do – the ‘norm’ is going to be the opposite. One of the reasons for this is the simple fact that Christians in general are not being taught about the “blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;” (Titus 2:13). Seldom do we hear sermons about the Second Coming and the millennial reign of Christ on earth when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. (1 Cor 15:24). Without this vital teaching we leave ourselves wide open to the deception that will come, and we deprive ourselves of understanding so much of the Bible which God has given in order that we might be ‘thoroughly equipped’ (see 2 Tim 3:16-17).
It is like having a film with a really exciting ending where the hero wins. Imagine showing it to your friends but then stopping it before it gets to the end. It wouldn’t make any sense to them and the plot would remain unresolved. It would be extremely hard for them to recommend it to anyone else.
This is what the modern church has done with the greatest story of all time; a story that was written in blood on a wooden cross erected in Judea almost 2000 years ago, a story that is about to reach its climax, and the most amazing discovery is that before the Hero wins convincingly, He marries His beloved Bride!
You and I can be that Bride and reign with our Hero forever. Now that’s a story, and that’s why we should live our lives ‘looking for the blessed hope’!
In Proverbs 29:18 we read “Where there is no vision, the people perish”. How sad it is today to see so many churches without that hope now in decline, so many ‘Christians’ falling away and giving up just as we are approaching the finish line, and so many that appear to have lost any real motivation, or vision for their faith.
What we do see are churches left, right and centre clamoring to get hold of the latest church growth course or programme in the hope that it might work for them. Whist they maintain an outward profession to believe the Word of God, it is apparently no longer sufficient. Gone are the days when “the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47), when it was “the Law of the Lord that converted the soul” (Psalm 19:7). Apparently it is now up to us to have the ‘right strategy’ or to make our churches ‘seeker friendly’; this is how we are being told the modern church is to grow.
One popular author and pastor, in his ‘church/personal growth manual’ that is taking the church by storm tells his readers: “When the disciples wanted to talk about prophecy, Jesus quickly switched the conversation to evangelism. He said in essence. “The details of my return are none of your business.””
Oh no, no, no He didn’t! Jesus said:
“Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.” (Matt 24:5)
“For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. (Matt 24:25-26)
Now learn a parable of the fig tree…… (Matt 24:32)
So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near (Matt 24:33)
Therefore be ye also ready……… (Matt 24:44)
Watch therefore…….. (Matt 25:13)
Take heed lest any man deceive you: (Mark 13:5)
But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that reads understand,) Mark 13:14)
For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall show signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things. (Mark 13:22-23)
Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. (Mark 13:33)
Watch ye therefore (Mark 13:35)
And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch (Mark 13:37)
Take heed that ye be not deceived (Luke 21:8)
And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. (Luke 21:28)
And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man. (Luke 21:34-36)
As Jesus clearly says, there is a way to escape the things that will come to pass on this earth; that is our blessed hope! Those who tell you that prophecy and understanding the ‘end times’ are unimportant have obviously not read the Bible, so I wouldn’t trust them or go to one of their churches – what you do is up to you, but remember: Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. (Matt 7:13-15)
If the path you are on is wide and there are many with you, you might just want to look up and see where it leads. Don’t be fooled because the majority of people think it’s ok. The majority are not always right – the majority drowned in the flood.
“But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” (Matt 24:37)
Appendix B – The 7 Blessings: A checklist for Christ’s Bride?
It is interesting that the 7 blessings that are said at a Jewish wedding are designed to reflect the attitude and beliefs of the bride and groom. Having already seen how closely the Rapture seems to be modeled on a Jewish wedding, could it be that the 7 blessings would also reflect the beliefs of Christ’s bride at the time of the Rapture?
As we have already seen, these blessings begin with 1) praising God for His creation in general, then 2) praising Him for making man in His image, 3) then praising Him for making a “two part creature”, man and woman, 4) then acknowledging that only together can they be complete. 5) In the fifth blessing they pray for the restoration of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. 6) The sixth blessing expresses the hope that the bride and groom will grow in love for each other, focusing their love as exclusively as Adam and Eve, when there was no one else in the world. 7) Then finally, the seventh blessing is a prayer for the Messiah to come and redeem the Jews from exile, so that peace and tranquility will reign over the world.
So if the beliefs of Christ’s Bride are to reflect this, it would suggest that 1) she acknowledges God as Creator of all things, (would this also imply a rejection of evolutionary ideas and propaganda?) 2) Acknowledge that we have been made in His image – Father, Son & Spirit = soul, body & spirit, and hence a belief in the Trinity. 3) Acknowledge that God’s intended union is between male and female, thus ruling out homosexual behavior or any acceptance of it. 4) Man and woman can only be complete as one unit – which in itself is symbolic of Christ and the Church, (see Eph 5:32) 5) Have a desire to see Jerusalem and the Jewish temple restored, hence a love for the Jewish people and an acknowledgment of Israel’s place in God’s plan. 6) A confident belief and hope that according to His word, God will create a new heavens and earth ‘wherein righteousness dwells’ – and in this new heavens and earth we will be His people and He will be our God, walking together with Him as Adam & Eve did before the fall (Rev 21:3 & Rev 22:4) – This rejects the dangerous amillennial view of the end times, 7) and finally, a desire to see the Jews accept their Messiah, and for Jesus to set up His kingdom on earth and reign from Jerusalem for 1000 years in fulfillment of Biblical prophecy.
This is conjecture and not doctrine, but If, as we know, Christ’s Bride is to be ‘washed by the water of God’s Word’ (Eph 5:26), and the 7 blessings, based on that Word are an indication as to her beliefs, it would confirm the view held by some scholars that there will be a move back to the Bible as the inspired, inerrant and infallible word of God by the (true) Church, prior to the Rapture.