The last words of a dying friend or family member are always full of meaning. And the last words of the Lord Jesus are no exception. The scene is the Upper Room, the night before Jesus is crucified. It is the night of his betrayal by Judas. Jesus was having dinner with His disciples (called "the Last Supper). His disciples were clueless as to what was about to happen. In fact, they thought He was about to lead a political revolt and overthrow the Jewish religious leaders, as well as the Roman military. This scene is recorded in John 13.
Jesus shocked them by announcing his betrayal by Judas (verse 21). Then He really shocked them with the news that He was going to die (VS 31). But, He adds that He would rise from the grave after 3 days, after which He must leave them for awhile (vs. 33).
As usual, Peter reacted first….in this case with a question. "Where will You go" (verse 36)? And then in the next verse, Peter asks, "Why can I not follow You, wherever it is?"
It is against this backdrop that the Bible gives us one of the primary references with regard to the tremendous event which we call the Lord's return. It is not hard to imagine the feelings of the disciples, and how they must have felt when they heard Him say He was going to leave them. As far as they knew, this might be the last time they would see Him.
But Jesus wanted them to know that He was not abandoning them. So, to comfort them, He promised to come back and get them. These words of comfort are found in the first 3 verses of the following chapter.
John 14:1-3 NKJV
1 Let not your heart be troubled; you 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 to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
As a good bridegroom, the Lord announced His intentions to prepare a dwelling place for His bride. Also, as a good bridegroom, He wants His bride with Him. So He assured the disciples that He would return to take them to be with Himself.
It is important to notice that all the Lord promised on this occasion was the simple fact that He would return for His followers. In other words, they would see Him again. He did not elaborate with much detail at this point. His intention was to provide comfort to his disciples about His leaving them. He did not want their hearts to be troubled. But He did not say anything about HOW he would come, or WHEN His coming would occur.
Let me digress for a moment with an illustration. Probably most here today are familiar with the "Star Trek" series. If you are the least bit familiar, you probably are also familiar with the phrase "Beam me up, Scotty!"
Whenever Captain Kirk was in trouble, or needed to get somewhere in a hurry, the Star Trek crew would rev up the Enterprise's Transporter Device. Instantly the Captain and crew would dematerialize and suddenly materialize elsewhere. There isn't anybody who has ever been caught in rush-hour traffic, who wouldn't give a month's pay for such a device.
What may not be common knowledge is that the Bible speaks of an event very similar to this. This event is known as The Rapture. This is the event Jesus was talking about in John 14. The Rapture is described in several passage in the Bible.
WHAT IS THE RAPTURE? HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE RAPTURE?
The Rapture is the modern term used to describe the supernatural moment when Jesus Christ will transform the bodies of all living and departed believers into their new spiritual, immortal bodies as they "rise to meet Him in the air."
As I mentioned in last week's lesson, the word rapture is not found in our English Bible. But the event known as "The Rapture" is clearly taught there. One thing is absolutely sure - Jesus will keep His promise to come back for His bride.
Although Christ does not tell His followers when or how He will return, He does provide a 4-part promise that must be kept in mind when studying the Rapture. That 4-part promise is:
1. He is preparing a place for his people.
2. He will come back from heaven.
3. His purpose for returning is the retrieve his followers.
4. His followers will spend all eternity with Him.
All four of these promises will be fulfilled when the Rapture occurs.
Other writers of the New Testament books provide other details, not given by Jesus in John 14. However, none of them tell us WHEN. No one knows when it will happen, but it WILL happen. Soon there is going to be a mass exodus of Christians from planet earth. A rendezvous with Christ in the upper atmosphere (in the clouds) will take place.
A few minutes ago, I mentioned that the word rapture is not found our English Bible translations but that the event, called the Rapture, is clearly taught in the Bible. Let's once again briefly define the word RAPTURE.
WHAT DOES THE WORD RAPTURE MEAN? WHERE DO WE GET THE IDEA OF A RAPTURE?
The English word "rapture" comes from the Latin word "repere," or its derivative "raptus." This is the Latin translation of the Greek word harpazo (har-POD-zo).
Harpazo means "to take, to snatch away, or to catch away." On several occasions, in past lesson, we have looked at 1 Thess 4:13-18. This verse answers the HOW that was left unanswered by Christ in John 14. It does not, however, explain WHEN it will happen. Let's look at this Passage once again.
1 Thess 4:13-17 NIV
13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.
14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.
15 According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.
16 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.
17 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.
The Greek word "HARPAZO" is used in verse 17, and is translated "caught up" in this version.
When most of us hear the word "rapture," as relating to endtimes prophecy, we picture our being caught up to meet Jesus in the air. But are you aware that other raptures are recorded in the Bible.
CAN YOU TELL ME OTHER RAPTURES THAT ARE MENTIONED IN THE BIBLE?
o 2 Witnesses
Gen 5:21-24 NIV
21 When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah.
22 And after he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters.
23 Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years.
24 Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.
As far as I can tell from the Bible, this is the first Rapture. Enoch never died, but was taken by God to be with Him. Sometimes, events like these are called "translation." He was translated from mortal to immortal, then was transported to heaven.
Hebrews 11:5 NIV
5 By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.
The KJV says "Enoch was translated….." and the word translation is used 3 times in the KJV version of this verse. So, Enoch was the first person to be raptured.
The next rapture takes place in the Book of 2nd Kings. Elijah's, one of the chief prophets of God, was coming to the close of his earthly ministry, and Elisha was about to be thrust into that vacancy.
2 Kings 2:9-11 NIV
9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?" "Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit," Elisha replied.
10 "You have asked a difficult thing," Elijah said, "yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours-otherwise not."
11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.
Elijah was taken to heaven in a chariot of fire, in a whirlwind.
In Acts 1:8-9 NIV, we find the record of Jesus leaving his disciples and returning to heaven.
8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
Luke is the author of the Book of Acts. But he also records the event of Christ's ascension in his Gospel writings.
Luke 24:50-51 NIV
50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.
51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.
Again we see the rapture of Christ as He leaves this earth. But neither of these verses that we just read, concerning Christ, uses the Greek word "harpazo" to describe the rapture. We have to explore another verse to find that word applied to Christ returning to Heaven.
Rev 12:1-5 NKJV
1 Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars.
2 Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.
3 And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads.
4 His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born.
5 She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne.
Here, the Greek word harpazo is used to describe the Male Child who is "caught up" to the throne of God. I believe this male child is Jesus Christ.
In Acts 8, we find the account of Philip's ministry. In verse 26, we find an angel speaking directly to Philip, telling him to go out into the Gaza desert, apparently by conventional methods. Most likely by walking. Philip obeys and finds an Ethiopian Eunuch reading the Book of Isaiah. Philip comes on board to explain to the Eunuch that what he is reading is about Christ, and after understanding, he asks Philip if it was possible to be baptized.
Acts 8:36, 38-39 NIV
36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?"
38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.
39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.
The words in verse 39, "suddenly took" are translated from the Greek word "harpazo." So here is another rapture.
The Two Witnesses
Let me quickly show you one more rapture. It is found in Revelation 11. In this chapter, we find the ministry of the two witnesses during the Tribulation time. After ministering for 3˝ years, they are finally killed, and their bodies are left on the street for 3˝ days. Look at verses 11 & 12.
Revelation 11:11-12 NIV
11 But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them.
12 Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, "Come up here." And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on.
Here is another resurrection followed by a rapture to heaven. Not all raptures are preceded by a resurrection.
Let's return to our study about the Rapture of the Church. Earlier we looked at 1 Thess. 4:16-17, which is by far the clearest description of the Rapture that awaits the followers of Jesus Christ. But it is not the only Passage that talks about this event.
WHERE DO YOU THINK WE FIND THE FIRST REFERENCE TO THIS RAPTURE?
I want to analyze a couple of passages, which you might overlook as a Passage talking about the Rapture thinking it might just be talking about the 2nd Coming, which is a different event.
Jesus speaking to Martha
Jesus was the first to teach about the Rapture and it occurs in a conversation He had with Martha, Lazarus' sister.
John 11:21-26 NIV
21 "Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask."
23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again."
24 Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."
25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;
26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
Martha think she knows what the Lord is talking about when she said, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." But Jesus follow her comments by correcting her perception. Let's examine what He says.
When we examined 1 Thess. 4:16-17, we should have noticed that the Church will consist of two distinct groups.
1. Those who have previously died in the faith (the dead in Christ),
2. Those Christians who are still alive when the Rapture occurs.
Now let look again at John 11: 25-26 NIV, where Jesus speaks to Martha.
25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;
26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
Maybe you weren't like me, but for a long time, when I read this familiar passage, I thought Jesus was repeating in verse 26, what He had already stated in verse 25, only saying it in a different manner, either for clarification or for emphasis. However, upon closer examination, I believe this passage contains the first teaching in the New Testament about the Rapture of the Church. Notice that Jesus is also teaching about two distinct groups of believers.
The first is made up of all of those believers who will have died between the time of Christ until the Rapture of the Church. Verse 25 speaks of those who have believed on Jesus Christ, and later they died. He says that those who believe in Him will live again if they die.
In Verse 26, Jesus speaks of that other group of people who will be alive when He returns. He speaks of them as having believed, but will never die. In this statement, Jesus is the first to say that there will be a generation of believers who will not have to pass through death to reach eternal life.
These are the same group of people that Paul mentions in 1 Thess 4:17. Those in this latter group are the ones who are "alive and remain" who will be caught up following the dead in Christ, to meet the Lord in the air. This is the very first mention of the Rapture in the Bible.
Although Jesus is the 1st to mention the Rapture, He doesn't give many details apart from the fact that there are two groups. Paul will later unveil the mystery of the Rapture.
Paul also speaks of the Rapture in the Resurrection chapter of the Bible - 1 Corinthians 15. I have made note of this verse in each of the last two lessons. Let's look at it again.
1 Cor 15:51-52 NIV
51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed -
52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
In these verse, Paul again is teaching about the Rapture of the saints. And again the two distinct groups of people are mentioned. First, he speaks of those who have died and says they will be raised imperishable. Secondly, he speaks of those still alive when the Rapture occurs, saying they will be changed.
IN VERSE 51, WHEN PAUL USES THE WORD "SLEEP," WHAT IS HE TALKING ABOUT?
He is speaking about death. In the New Testament, death is often described as "sleep". Let's keep looking at this passage a moment more. Paul makes several points in this short Passage.
The first point Paul makes is that not all Christians will die. This is consistent with the fact that many believers will be alive in the final generation when Christ comes for his followers.
The second point Paul makes is that Christ will first resurrect the bodies of those believers who have already died.
The third point is that the resurrection will nearly instantaneous, in the "twinkling of an eye."
The fourth point Paul makes is that the blowing of the trumpet will accompany this Rapture.
The fifth and final point is that all believers - both dead and alive - will be changed into their new supernatural, immortal, resurrection bodies.
Now let's summarize what we have learned thus far about the Rapture of the Church. Let's put what we know into the sequence in which they will occur.
1. Christ will literally descend bodily from Heaven with a shout.
2. He will be bringing all the spirits of the Christians who have died.
3. The voice of the archangel will be heard.
4. A trumpet blast will occur.
5. The bodies of all Christians who have died will be raised from their graves, and will, in an instant, "in the twinkling of an eye," be transformed into incorruptible bodies.
6. The spirits of those who have died will be reunited with their now immortal bodies.
7. Those believer alive at the time of the Rapture will never experience death, but their bodies will also be changed into new immortal, resurrection bodies.
8. Next there will be a brief reunion between those who were dead and those who were alive as they proceed upward.
9. All believers making up the Church, and having their bodies changed to be like Christ's glorified body, finally meet Christ in the air.
10. Thereafter, these people making up the Bride of Christ will never die, and will always be with Him wherever Christ is.
Actually, all of this takes place in a very short timeframe.
WHEN THE RAPTURE OCCURS, WHAT WILL IT BE LIKE ON EARTH FOR THOSE WHO REMAIN?
First of all, the Rapture will be a global event. It will happen simultaneously around the globe. Every living person on planet Earth will be startled to attention. I can imagine that a sudden disappearance of millions of people from planet earth will cause all sorts of catastrophes. In the seconds and minutes following the Rapture, chaos will occur.
1. Jumbo jets lose their pilot and plummet to earth. Many will just be taking off or landing, and their crash will be in populated neighborhoods.
2. Driverless buses, trains and cars will cause unimaginable disaster.
a. Cars without drivers will careen into cars, buildings and populated sidewalks.
b. Driverless cars approaching intersections will enter crossing traffic as full speed.
c. Trains without engineers will jump tracks at a curve without anyone to slow them.
3. Classrooms are suddenly without teachers.
4. Riots break out in prisons as guard are suddenly absent from their stations.
5. Doctors and nurses seem to abandon their patience in the middle of a surgical operation.
6. Or, patients disappear from the operating table, while their doctors and nurses are left in amazement.
7. Children disappear from their beds or from their mother's arms.
8. A woman that is pregnant and about to give birth, will suddenly not be pregnant.
9. People will run into the streets looking for missing family members who were there just a moment ago.
10 Baseball games where the pitcher and left fielder have suddenly disappeared.
11. Economic chaos in the weeks following
a. Bankers ponder how to collect unpaid bills
b. Billions of assets are frozen in brokerage trading accounts until problem can be solved.
c. Real estate values will plummet as millions of empty houses flood the market.
12. When CNN reporters try to find some answers, Billy Graham cannot be located.
13. Soldiers will be missing interrupting supply line, or commanders.
14. Military planes loaded with destructive weapons will travel aimlessly, crashing with huge explosions.
15. Mass looting as shops and stores that have been vacated by their owners and fewer than normal Policemen to respond because many of them are also missing.
16. Ship are without their captain, and people onboard and left to drift as sea.
17. The "Light of the Word" and "The Salt of the Earth" will no longer be restraining wickedness.
18. Firemen fighting a fire will suddenly disappear leaving a fire hose flopping back and forth under the water's pressure.
This world will not be a pleasant place immediately after the Rapture of the Church. And this is not even the Tribulation yet, which will even be much more devastating and wicked.