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Introduction to the Rapture

John Hoole March 10, 2002

John 14:1-3

1. Let not your heart be troubled: Ye believe in God, believe also in me.
2. 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.
3. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

Down through the centuries millions of Christians have lived out their hours and days and years with......an expectation. It may not have always been in the forefront of their thoughts, and yet, it was never fully out of their thoughts either. This "expectation" was a comforting presence -- A constant companion. --- A silent partner. It was a hope beyond all hope. This great expectation to which I am referring was that in the next breath, the next blink of the eye, the next tick of the clock, the next beat of the heart, the next rustle of the leaves, the Lord Jesus Christ could descend from heaven with a shout and call them Home.

Ever since the first days of the Christian Church, evangelical Christians have looking for what Titus 2:13 calls "that blessed hope and glorious appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

At times the flame of the blessed hope burned brightly - even amidst much persecution. At other times, the church appeared to be sleeping, but it was waiting none-the-less.

Not only did Jesus promise such a home-gathering in the verses we read a moment ago in John 14 the angels promised it to a small group who witnessed Christ's return to glory.

Acts 1:11

Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.

Christians today call this promised event The Rapture of the Church."

Most of you are aware that I enjoy studying Church history. I especially like to research what the early church wrote concerning the coming of Christ. Reading such materials definitely shows which ages exhibited a joyous anticipation for the coming of Christ. Other periods show very little interest in the subject.

I am certainly no expert on church history, but it is not hard for me to recognize the two most evangelistic period in the history of the Church. The early church "turned the world upside down" in the first 2 ½ centuries -- and in the last 2 ½ centuries, the gospel has spread to every continent on the globe.

Unfortunately, there was a period of nearly 1,500 years where the thrust of evangelism wasn't the primary mission of the Church. Looking at what the major focus of the church was from the 5th to the 15th centuries, it's not difficult to see why they called these the "dark ages." There was very little evangelism during these centuries.

If I try to analyze these two period of history, and ask what these great soul-winning eras in church history shared in common, I come up with two considerations. I am sure they are not the only considerations, but they are indeed 2 very important ones. What did these two evangelistic periods in church history share in common?

1. A belief in an authoritative, Holy Spirit-inspired, inerrant and literally interpreted Bible, and

2. The anticipation that Christ could come for His church at any time.

Whenever God's people accept the Bible literally, we automatically witness a renewed interest in the study of Bible prophecy. When Bible students interpret the Scriptures literally, they naturally conclude from their reading that our Lord has promised to return to this earth some day to establish His kingdom. Consequently, those who accept the Bible literally expect Him to come at any moment. You see, historically, belief in the any-moment-coming of Christ had three vital effects on Christians and their churches -- and it is no less true today.

1. It produces holy living.

Belief that Jesus could come at any moment impels holy living in an unholy society. They want to be ready when He comes.

1 John 3:3 says: "He that has this hope (the Return of Christ) in Him purifies himself, just as He (Christ) is pure."

2. It produces an evangelistic church of soul-winning Christians.

When we really believe that Christ could appear at any moment, we seek to share Him with our friends lest they be left behind at His coming.

An interesting statistic came to light recently in one of George Gallup's polls on religion. He found that 62% of Americans believe Jesus Christ literally will return to this earth yet according to another poll by the same organization, just under 40% percent of the population describes itself as born again. In other words, 35% of those who believe in His coming....are not ready for it. That means that that percentage of people you meet today have enough faith to believe in Him, but have not received Him personally. I hope this lesson will inspire you to be on the lookout for them so you can explain to them the good news of the gospel.

3. They will have a worldwide missionary vision.

Belief in the imminent return of Christ compels Christians and churches to develop a worldwide missionary vision of reaching the lost for Christ in their generation. And we have more reason to believe that Christ will come in our lifetime than any generation since He ascended into heaven and promised to return. Naturally, we should eagerly desire to reach as many people as we can with His good news.

If you firmly believe that at any instant you could find yourself hurtling through the skies to meet your Lord face to face, it makes a difference how you conduct your life. You are a little more careful. A little more aware. A little more guarded. A little more thoughtful. A little more prepared.

As we begin our study of the Rapture of the Church, it is important to discuss the definition of a few important theological terms. -- terms like:

Eschatology
Rapture
Mystery
Millennium
Literal vs. Allegorical Interpretation

Except for the word "mystery," none of these words or phrases are found in any of our English translation of the Bible. And yet, each are important in our understanding of End-time prophecy.

ESCHATOLOGY

Definition: a theological study of the end time, or last things.

It covers a wide range of things and events, such as:

o Death, resurrection, the second coming, divine judgment of men and angels and their punishment or rewards, the tribulation, Armageddon, the 1000-year reign of Christ, the future of Israel, heaven, hell, new heaven and earth, etc.

So, when you hear the term "eschatology," it is referencing an inquiry into the biblical prophecies concerning the final events of human history.

RAPTURE

Definition: An event when all Christian, living and dead, will be raised up to meet Jesus in the air and then remain with Him forever.

The word "rapture" come from the Latin root word "Raptus" or a further declension of the verb "repere." This is the Latin translation of the Greek verb "harpazo." (pronounced harpadso) It literally means…..to seize, to catch away.

Specifically, it refers to the catching away of the Church to meet Christ in the air. It is the Greek word used in 1 Thess. 4:17, where we find the English phrase "caught up." We will say more about this as we get further in our study of the Rapture.

MYSTERY

This word is used in the King James Bible 22 time - all in the New Testament. The New American Standard uses this word 26 times.

WHEN THE BIBLE USES THE WORD "MYSTERY," WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

Whenever we read the word "mystery" in the Bible, it is not to be thought of in terms of a good Alfred Hitchcock thriller. In the Bible, the word translated "mystery" simply is referring to something previously hidden that now is being revealed.

Let me give you an example. Throughout the Old Testament, there were strong hints that God's blessing would be extended beyond the Jews to include the gentiles. We noted in an earlier lesson on the beginnings of Israel and the covenant made with Abraham how part of that covenant was a promise that through Abraham all the nations of the earth would be blessed.

We are also aware of people like Ruth and Rahab, as well as the citizens of Nineveh, all of whom are gentiles, yet were beneficiaries of God's grace. We also read of a parable of Jesus, where guests were invited by the king to attend his son's wedding. When the invited guests failed to respond, the king invites people off the street to attend the wedding.

The Pharisees who heard that parable knew very well that because of Israel's rejection of Christ, God would allow gentiles to be fellow-heirs to the promises of God. And yet, in spite of these strong hints, neither the Old Testament prophets nor the apostles fully grasped the idea of Gentiles being recipients of God's promises. This was a "mystery" left to the apostle Paul to explain.

Eph 3:2-6 NIV

2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God's grace that was given to me for you,
3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly.

5 which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets.
6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

Paul is saying that God gave him the task of unveiling this mystery. A mystery that had before that not been fully understood.

What does such a word like "mystery" have to do with the subject of the rapture of the Church? It helps to explain why the Old Testament never mentions the rapture of the Church. Why? Because the whole idea of a Church Age during which Gentiles would come to faith in Christ was a mystery. The subject of the rapture never comes up in the Old Testament because it is a Church Age event, not a Jewish event.

We see this clearly in the Resurrection chapter of the Bible - 1 Corinthians 15.

1 Corinthians 15:51-52 NKJV

51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
52 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.

This verse speaks about the "mystery" of the Rapture of the Church. Again, the mystery now being unveiled by Paul was unknown in prior ages. That's why it is called a "mystery."

MILLENNIUM

Definition: Mille……… meaning "1000"
Annum…….... meaning "year"

The millennium, then, reflects a period of 1000 years.

With regard to Bible prophecy, it refers to a time of peace and righteousness with Jesus Christ here on earth as King of Kings. It is a time when the curse, set down by God in the Garden of Eden, will be removed.

There are a multitude of viewpoints surrounding the subject of the millennium. Their differences generally center on the nature of such a period of time. Although some will disagree, I believe the fact of a future millennium is very clearly taught in Revelation 20:1-6. But what kind of millennium it will be has been, and continues to be, strongly debated.

There are 3 major views concerning the Millennium.

o A-
o Post-
o Pre- millennial

The difference between each of these views has to do with how each views the relationship between Christ's Second Coming and the Millennium. Each also differs as to what happens during that period of time.

A-millennial

It is very obvious that the early Christians expected the speedy return of Christ to establish an actual kingdom on this earth, over which He would reign for 1000 years. When Christ did not return quickly - that is within 300 years following the apostles, the church's concept of the millennium changed to a non-literal one. Hence: A-millennialism.

A-millennial means "no millennium." This branch of prophetic theology does not believe in a literal tribulation or a literal 1000-year reign of Christ - or a literal antichrist. They believe the biblical phrase, "one-thousand-years" is just suggesting a long time. For the A-millennialist, it represents all the time from the first century until Christ returns. This was the predominant view of the church for over 1,000 years during the dark ages.

Post-millennial

This view does believe in a literal 1000-years but don't believe Christ will be on earth reigning during that period. They hold the position that Christ will come following the 1000 years. Hence, Post-millennial.

This view hold that the millennium would be established by the Church, through successful Christianizing of the world by believers. It teaches that the Church will gradually expand throughout the globe until the population of the earth will someday worship Christ. As I state earlier, this view doesn't require Christ to return to destroy Satan's Antichrist and establish his righteous rule. After the church completes its mission, then Christ will return.

This view flourished during the 18th and 19th centuries. Because of the hundreds of missionary groups which were established during this time, this was a period of optimism about the Church's ability to Christianize the world. But World War I seriously shook this view and World War II all but wiped it out. The world is not getting better. But, just as the Scriptures foretold, "evil is waxing worse and worse."

Pre-millennialism

The third millennial view is Pre-millennialism. This was the predominant view during the first 2½ centuries of the Church, and again, for the last nearly 300 years, has been a major view, and is held by most all of fundamental Christianity today.

Those who hold this view, like the Post-Millennialist, believe in a literal 1000 years. But they believe Christ will come back prior to the Millennium. To those who hold this position, Christ, not the Church, will be the one who established the kingdom on earth.

Now that we have briefly defined the three millennial views it is very easy to use them to segue to the next topic requiring definition. I am speaking of the methods used to interpret Bible prophecy,

There are two basic interpretative methods that has been applied to the Word of God, in an attempt to understand the Bible's prophecies.

o The Literal method, and

o The Allegorical method

These 3 millennial views we just covered hinge on which method of interpretation is used. Of the 3 positions, the A-millennial view is the most allegorical in their interpretation of prophecy. In fact, they do not interpret much of Scripture in a literal sense. The only way one can arrive at this view is by using an allegorical or symbolic way of interpreting the Bible.

That means that one assigns to the words of Scripture a meaning other than that which is normally understood and accepted at the time of the writing. They admit that all Scripture has a literal meaning, but only to the immediate people to whom the letter or prophecy was written, and to that generation only.

They hold that all Scripture has at least a dual meaning. One, more literal, is for those to whom the letter was written, but to all others, there was a somewhat hidden meaning, which always represented a spiritual truth. It is only this second meaning - the underlying truth - that is relevant for the church today. In other words, all Scripture is spiritualized.

This secondary, or spiritual, meaning is understood only as God gives the believer the gift of knowledge and wisdom. As we noted earlier, they don't expect a literal reign of Christ. They believe that when Christ comes back, the judgment will occur immediately, followed by the eternal state including the new heaven and new earth.

The Post-Millennial adherents partially subscribe to an allegorical method for interpreting of prophecy. In a way, they sort of "pick and choose" which parts are allegorical or symbolic, and which are to be taken literally. They believe in a literal 1,000 years and a literal 2nd Coming of Christ, but believe Christ will be reigning from heaven. The kingdom, therefore, is mostly a spiritual thing.

As stated earlier, for them Christ will come only after the Church has Christianized the world. They look at Matthew 24 and most of Revelation and Daniel as purely symbolic.

The adherents of Pre-millennialism take a much more literal approach to interpretation of Bible prophecy than do any other group. They hold that Jesus will come physically (bodily) from heaven to earth, where He will set up his kingdom for 1000-years and reign on the throne of David. They also take the Tribulation, Armageddon, and the Antichrist as literal people or events.

Many a-millennialists concede that if prophecy is interpreted literally (normally), grammatically and historically, it will produce a pre-millennial view

The literal method does allow for parables, allegories and figures of speech in the Bible, but recognizes that the context will clearly indicate when this is the case.

For instance, Rev 12:3 (NIV) says,

3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads.

John sees this weird-looking dragon. But six verses later, in Rev 12:9 NIV, we learn who that dragon is.

9 The great dragon was hurled down-that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

There is no doubt as to who the dragon depicts.

I believe the Bible is the best interpreter of the Bible. If you don't understand the symbols or the imagery used in a particular passage, look through the rest of the Bible to help in the interpretation. I can't think of a single symbol used in the Book of Revelation that is not found elsewhere in the Bible.

When one compares Pre-millennialism with the other millennial views, their differences become readily apparent.

1. Israel: Does prophecy really speak of a literal return of these people to their land? Is the restoration of the nation of Israel a literal fulfillment of Scripture?

2. The Kingdom: Is it literal and under Christ's control? Is it to be 1000 literal years in length?

3. Satan's Future: Is he to be bound literally for 1000 years?

4. The Resurrection: Is the resurrection of the saints to be at a different time than the ungodly? If so, why? And is this resurrection literal and bodily?

Let me give you a brief history of the development of church doctrine and explain why I believe we should interpret the Bible - including endtimes prophecy in a much more literal manner. As I mentioned a few minutes ago, when Christ did not come literally as the church believed during the first 400 years of its history, a non-literal approach to Christ's return began to be formed. They began to treat prophecies as symbolic pictures of some spiritual truth.

I consider it tragic that the great theologian Augustine adopted the allegorical approach to interpreting Scripture. His approach became the predominant view for the next 1000 year, until the time of the Reformation. During that period, the symbolic language of prophecy came to represent the ultimate spiritual battle between good and evil. And they saw that good will finally triumph.

It was also tragic that at about the same time as Augustine, the Catholic church decided that the Scriptures would only be printed in Latin, and all sermons would be given in Latin. Most people did not understand Latin, which lead to the church leaders and priests as being the only interpreters of Scripture.

And now, it wouldn't have made any difference even if the common people had the Bible, because all thought of interpreting it in the normal, grammatical manner had been replaced by the allegorical method of interpretation. And only the Priests, who were gifted in Knowledge and Wisdom, could interpret. This led to the great distinction made between Clergy and Laity, something that the early church did not endorse.

Church historian Joseph Milner describes the theological confusion that developed when the theologians abandoned the fundamental principle of literal interpretation.

"A thick mist for ages pervaded the Christian world, supported and strengthened by his allegorical manner of interpretation. The learned alone were considered for ages implicitly to be followed."

When Milner mentions "his allegorical manner of interpretation," he is speaking of one of the early church theologians, named Origen.

It wasn't until brave souls like John Wycliffe, John Huss, William Tyndale, John Calvin and Martin Luther risked their lives in order that the common people of their day could have the Bible for themselves in their own language

Martin Luther, in his commentary on the Book of Deuteronomy, defended the literal sense of interpretation.

"I here once more repeat, what I have so often insisted on, that the Christian should direct his efforts toward understanding the so-called literal sense of Scripture, which alone is the substance of faith and of Christian theology, which alone will sustain him in the hour of trouble and temptation, and which will triumph over sin, death and the gates of hell, to the praise and glory of God. The allegorical sense is usually uncertain, and by no means safe to build our faith upon; for it depends, for the most part on human opinion only, on which if a man lean he will find it no better [to lean upon] than the Egyptian reed."

In a commentary on the Book of Revelation, written by Jack MacArthur, I read this comment.

"When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense"

He goes on to say that we should take every word at its primary, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context clearly indicate otherwise.

We should interpret the language of Scripture, including the prophetic portions, in its ordinary, usual, and natural grammatical meaning, unless the context of the particular prophecy makes it obvious that the statement is purely symbolic.

Let me give you what I think is one of the strongest arguments for the literal approach to interpretation of the Bible. If you were to do a comprehensive analysis of the hundreds of Old and New Testament prophecies which have already come to pass, you would see that all of them were fulfilled in a literal and precise manner. How would one ever know if they were fulfilled if they were to be interpreted allegorically?

If you take the 48 Old Testament prophecies concerning the first coming of Christ, they were all fulfilled as predicted in a literal sense. None of them were fulfilled allegorically. And if you take the fact that many of the prophecies concerning Christ's first coming were also linked to His second coming, how can you take the first coming in a literal manner, but take the comment about his second coming as figurative and not literal.

Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. Look at Luke 1 and see what the angel Gabriel tells Mary.

Luke 1:31-33 NIV

31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.
32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,
33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

Virtually all Christians, regardless of which method of interpretation they use, accept that the first verse in this Passage was fulfilled literally when Jesus came. Mary had a child, whom they called Jesus. He is the Son of the Most High God.

If we are to be consistent in our use of the literal fulfillment of the first part of this, how can we change and use a symbolic or allegorical method to understand the latter half? Luke prophesied the literal truth about the birth of the promised Messiah. But with equal authority, Luke records that Gabriel said that Jesus would reign over the house of Jacob forever. It would be illogical and inconsistent to accept the literal reality of the first part then reject the literal truth of the final half. I choose to believe Jesus will literally rule over the house of Jacob.

   
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