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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published: November 20, 2020
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
Please open your Bible at 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
“For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them (those who had been asleep) in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
Last week we looked at one of the “mysteries” (secrets) kept hidden in the mind of God since before the foundation of the earth that is known as the Rapture (Deuteronomy 29:29). Now you won’t find that term in your Bible, however, it’s derived from the Latin word rapere, meaning “rapid” and the Latin word rapiemur, meaning, “we shall be caught up.” This word was taken from the Greek verb harpazo, meaning, “to seize upon, spoil, snatch away or take to oneself,” especially used of the Rapture (See Acts 8:39; 2 Corinthians 12:2, 4; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; Revelation 12:5). Harpazo is translated “caught up” or “caught away” the five times (out of thirteen) it appears in the Bible relating to the Rapture. The other eight times it is translated, “to forcibly seize upon, snatch away, take to oneself or use force on someone.”
For example, in Acts 8:39, the Holy Spirit “caught away” Philip after he ministered to the Ethiopian eunuch and placed him in Azotus, some 20-30 miles away. In 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, Paul twice described his experience of being “caught up” to the third heaven where “he heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” Then in Revelation 12:5, the man child of the Woman (usually interpreted to mean Jesus) was “caught up” to God and His throne (Acts 1). And in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, the primary text for the Rapture of the Church, “we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them (those who had fallen asleep in Christ) in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air . . .” Paul said these would “rise first.”
Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians were the first two letters he wrote to grace Believers. The purpose of these letters were to reveal the biblical doctrine of the Pre-Tribulational Rapture, to comfort Believers with this truth, and to correct the false teaching from those who opposed it, in particular, the view held that Believers would go through the Tribulation period a.k.a. the great and terrible Day of the Lord (Zephaniah 1:14-18; Joel 2:31).
However, our apostle Paul declared the Rapture is the Believer’s “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13); the resurrection of the true Church, i.e., the Body of Christ. This truth wasn’t known by the O.T. prophets, and Jesus did not reveal it in His earthly ministry which means Peter and the Eleven knew nothing of it. The resurrected, ascended, and glorified Lord disclosed it to Paul only. This Church Doctrine was the main subject Paul taught the Thessalonians after they had responded in faith to Paul’s gospel of grace. If we are to learn from Paul and follow his example towards the Thessalonian saints, this blessed truth should be taught to all Believers soon after they have believed the gospel that saves in this dispensation (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Romans 2:16, 16:25-27).
Please know believing the Pre-Tribulational Rapture is not essential for one’s salvation. However, its acceptance is necessary for the Believer’s spiritual growth. Why do I say this? God all Believers to “comfort” one another with the truth of the Rapture for it is our “blessed hope.” So, make no mistake, the Pre-Tribulation Rapture is as sound a doctrine as Paul’s gospel for the scriptures provide overwhelming evidence of it. However, not surprisingly, opposition exists even at this late date. The reason for this is twofold:
1) Ignorance (willful or otherwise) of the Scriptures, particularly Paul’s writings.
2) Unbelief. The majority of people refuse to accept it because they do not want to. For them, tradition, i.e., religion means more to them than the Scriptures. Thus, parallels exist between these folks and the generation of Jews at Kadesh Barnea who refused to enter Canaan (the promised land) after the LORD told them the land was theirs for the taking (Numbers 13-14; Hebrews 3:7-18, 4.3). They then spent the next forty years wandering in the wilderness until they perished with some exceptions. In like manner, people of all faiths refuse God’s rest of the Rapture, and as a result wander in “a wilderness” of unbelief intentionally.
The Suddenness of the Rapture
Down through the ages people of all faiths, and especially those without faith, have scoffed at the belief that one day, suddenly, every true Believers in Christ will be “caught up” and away from this world before the Tribulation begins to be with the Lord forever. But they also ridicule the idea that He will return to this earth to judge the unrighteous and reign. However, in response to their lack of faith in what God has revealed re: this subject we Believers declare, we believe God for “Hath not God (already) made foolish the wisdom of this world?” (1 Corinthians 1:20); and because the Rapture fits perfectly with the rest of God’s revealed plan for the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). As to the timing of this unique Church event, only one Bible verse is needed to confirm the Pre-Tribulation Rapture and that’s 1 Thessalonians 1:10: “…and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from (What?) the wrath to come.”
What did the Jews understand scripturally? Good question. Jewish theology was based upon two great revelations proclaimed by the O.T. prophets. One was the literal earthly Messianic kingdom the LORD God had promised the nation of Israel. Most Christians pray for it (whether they realize it or not) every time they recite Jesus’ outline for prayer in Matthew 6:10 known today as the Lord’s Prayer. The other was the Day of the Lord, which is composed of three elements:
1) God’s wrath upon the earth’s inhabitants,
2) The Messianic kingdom, and
3) The creation of the new heavens and earth.
However, God’s wrath is the subject most associated with the Day of the Lord. God revealed to David (circa 1,000 B.C.) that He would pour our His wrath upon Israel and the Gentile nations (Psalm 2:5-9). An important point to not overlook is Israel and the Gentile nations were the subjects of God’s wrath and His Church. Not one verse of Scripture teaches God will exercise wrath upon the Body of Christ.
Every good Jew knew the prophecies related to the Day of the Lord and Israel’s prophesied kingdom. Peter proclaimed them on the day of Pentecost to all the Jews in attendance (Acts 2). Peter recognized that God’s gift of the Holy Spirit was a sign of the prophesied kingdom. Therefore, he expected of the prophet Joel’s prophecy to be fulfilled shortly, including God’s wrath. This is why he quoted the entire prophecy (Acts 2:16-21; Luke 3:16-17). But Peter misread the times and the seasons in ignorance because he had no idea the Lord was about to begin the parenthetical period of time called the Dispensation of Grace and put the Jewish Prophetic Program on hold (Romans 11) for this too was described as a “mystery” by Paul:
“For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” (Romans 11:25).
“I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (Note: not the Day of the Lord). God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:4-9).
Now let’s all turn to 1 Corinthians 15:51-52. This is where Paul described the “suddenness” of the Rapture:
“Behold, I shew 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 trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
I say again, even with all the biblical evidence in support of it, great controversy and confusion exists in Christendom along with outright denial of the Rapture of the Church. This is largely caused by a “lack of knowledge” on one’s part or a result of not understanding the Church Doctrine that was revealed to Paul, our apostle, by the risen and glorified Lord Jesus Christ. When you get right down to it though, much of the failure to accept this Church Doctrine is attributed to “unbelief,” i.e., the refusal to believe the forthright and uncomplicated message of scripture.
The Key to Understanding the Rapture
Some have stated that the Rapture is wholly Paul and that Jesus never predicted such an event. This is correct. The O.T. prophets, including John the Baptist, knew nothing of it, and Jesus in His earthly ministry never taught it to the twelve. The Lord Jesus Christ revealed this mystery to Paul alone and he alone provides us with the to understanding the Rapture in 1 Corinthians 15:51:
“Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed…”
Paul wrote that the Rapture was “a mystery” (secret). This is key to understanding the Rapture: it was “a mystery” until the Lord revealed it to Paul. In layman’s terms it might be translated thusly, “Look, I am telling you a secret!” Paul added emphasis to his words to get his readers’ attention. He wanted them to understand that he was revealing a biblical truth to them that was previously unknown. The message Paul revealed to his audience was an event God had kept hidden, until He was ready to enlighten His own (See Deuteronomy 29:29). But wait a minute, didn’t God speak of the resurrection? The answer is yes. Job knew about it (Job 19:26). Jesus taught it (John 5:24-25, 28-29, 11:23), and the common people during Jesus’ time on earth knew about it (John 11:24). The Pharisees taught it as factual (Acts 23:6-8) and the Sadducees rejected it in its entirety (Matthew 22:23). Paul was not revealing something new when he wrote about the resurrection. But the revelation of the Rapture was a brand new message, “a “mystery,” that concerned the resurrection of the Body of Christ, solely, which was another mystery God had kept hidden. Paul taught the Doctrine of the Rapture in several texts. They include the following: 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, 4:13-18, 5:1-5, 5:9-11; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10, 2:1-12; and Philippians 3:8-11, 21.
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, in chapter 15, we find valuable information re: the resurrection of the saints in Christ Jesus. Paul taught more about the resurrection in that passage than all other Bible texts combined. He made the following truths known:
1) Belief in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ Jesus is the gospel for the Dispensation of Grace. Believing it is how one becomes a Believer, that is, how one is saved in this present dispensation (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, 5:11).
2) If no resurrection exists, Christ Himself has not been raised. If this is so, no forgiveness of sin exists, and we are all indeed dead in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).
3) The resurrection occurs in a sequence, i.e., in a specific order. Christ was the “first fruits” as in a harvest. All “in Christ” will be resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:20-34).
4) Two different kinds of bodies exist: earthly and heavenly. A resurrection body is heavenly and eternal (1 Corinthians 15:35-40).
5) Not all Believers will experience physical death. Some members of the Body of Christ will receive resurrection bodies while they remain alive. Their earthly bodies will be transformed into heavenly, eternal bodies. This too had been a secret before Paul received this revelation from the Lord (Corinthians 15:51-52).
6) The resurrection of the Believer’s body is their ultimate victory over sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:53-58) and constitutes the final phase of their sanctification. It was made possible by the Lord’s glorious resurrection on the third day when He Himself rose victorious over sin and death.
Please note the Believer’s glorification is the final phase of their salvation experience wherein he or she leaves this world, whether “asleep” or “alive” at the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17). The Believer never achieves sinless perfection until they receive their heavenly body. At that time, their sin nature is removed and they receive a glorified body “fashioned like His (Christ Jesus’) glorious body:”
“For our conversation (citizenship) is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Philippians 3:20-21).
(To be continued)
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