Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Rapture: Do we really leave the earth for heaven, or what?

In my last post, we looked at Matthew 24:40-41 which is often used to support the rapture but as we saw, those who will be caught up in the air are the evil, wicked ones, not the righteous believers. Now, what about 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 which is often cited as Paul's description of the rapture. This passage has more to do with the message of hope for believers who have died, that they too will be resurrected from the dead.
1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 (ESV) 
14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

Notice that Paul does not mention believers leaving, but rather says we are caught up together to meet the Lord in the air. The word meeting here is apantesis which means going out to meet a newly arriving dignitary. This passage's emphasis is on Jesus' triumphant return, not our departure from the earth. Paul seems to be invoking Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem when the crowds went outside the city to welcome Him.

1 Thessalonians 4 deals with the coming of a king and in the Roman Empire there was a way a King was to be welcomed. According to scholars like N.T. Wright, if Caesar decided to visit a Roman city, He would take his imperial ship to the nearest bay and ride from the boat on his chariot surrounded by the Roman legions. He would journey to about a mile outside of the city and then he would command his chief soldier to shout the command to his trumpeteers to alert blow their trumpets to alert the city of the King’s presence. All of the city’s residents would then file out to meet the king and then escort him back into the city.

Now go back and read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. If you were a Roman resident of the city of Thessalonica, how would you understand this text? Would you see it as a secret rapture of believers into heaven, or as the 2nd coming of Jesus and meeting him in the air as he descends to the reign on earth?

If there is a rapture of the saints, this is it, and it occurs in conjunction with the 2nd coming of Jesus.

Finally, here is my barometer for the "time and nearness' of His coming. It's found in John 17:21-23 (NLT) 
21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
22 “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one.
I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. 

I believe that the rapture of the saints, meeting the Lord in the air at his 2nd Coming, will take place when there is a oneness and unity among believers. Unless you are living in a cave on a deserted island, I doubt that you see much unity among believers today--and guess what? Neither does the world. Can you honestly say that you see believers loving one another in the community where you live, or in our nation as a whole? The unbelieving world has an excuse for not believing in Yeshua. They can stand before God and rightfully say "When did we ever see your disciples loving one another?" Now I believe that even though unbelievers are already condemned because of their sin and unbelief, God wants to be glorified by having his people loving each other so that unbelievers are without any excuse whatsoever.

So how will this ever come about? This is what the tribulation is all about. The Bible says that God is going to present to Himself a glorious church without spot, wrinkle or blemish. How does He do this? I believe that this is what transpires during the tribulation when we as saints are purified through the refining fire of suffering so that we are truly loving one another in such a way that the world sees Jesus. 

Right now, we can argue doctrine while we are separated by the walls of denominationalism and preferences because we have not yet been tested and tried as by fire. Most of us have not truly suffered for His name's sake. Not yet anyway.

Maybe this is why Christians in China pray for us because we have too much time on our hands and we spend much of our time majoring on the minors. We are not as committed or sold out to Jesus as we might think.  But with suffering such as the church in China has experienced, all this will change. This suffering, this tribulation will refine the Church so that only those who know and love Jesus will remain. 

What will remain will be the true worshipers who will worship in spirit and in truth. Right now, the church is full of "wood, hay and stubble" along with unrefined gold and silver. But there is coming a day when we bring glory to the Lord as a bride without spot or blemish. We will be loving one another and when that begins to happen, look up, for the 2nd coming of our Lord and Blessed Savior is at hand.


  1. So just for clarification, are you saying that you believe the "rapture" and 2nd coming are a combined event and that "believers" are weeded out from the true followers of Christ during the tribulation and that God will NOT be as Jesus said "shortening those days" for the sake of His people/the elect and they/we will go through the tribulation?

  2. Good question, pshane.
    Here's what I think (along with many others):
    I see Mt. 24:13, "But the one who endures to the end will be saved" as a key verse for Jesus' discourse in Matt. 24. The disciples have asked him, "Tell us, what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age." Nowhere in this discourse does he "comfort" them with a pre-trib rapture. I believe that he is saying that He will cut short the period of tribulation for the sake of the elect. I believe we will go through the tribulation, and this time is not a winnowing of "believers" from "true followers" but rather a winnowing of true believers (saints) from unbelievers or cultural "Christians" --those who thought they had their "fire insurance" based on a simple prayer.

    According to the Book of James, I don't believe that just saying the sinner's prayer is enough, but the Spirit bears witness with our hearts (Romans 8:16) that we are the sons of God.
    Matthew 24 also lines up with Paul's words to the Thessalonians in 2 Thess. 2:1-3 where he is seeking to comfort them because they thought the Day of the Lord had already come and they had missed it. Here Paul links "Day of the Lord" and "gathered together" as ONE event. It seems strange that Paul would go to great lengths in describing the coming of the anti-Christ and the falling away in order to calm down the believers that the 2nd Coming had not yet happened if they were NOT going to be there for it as those who are "pre-trib" believe. Paul would do a better job in consoling them that they would NOT be there for it, because they were going to be raptured. But instead, he says, "Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man of destruction."

    I do believe that the rapture and the 2nd Coming are combined events, and possibly at this same time, there is the rapture of the unbelievers who are taken away unto judgment, while the believers meet the Lord in the air and then descend with him onto the Mt. of Olives in Jerusalem where they join Him in His thousand-year millennial reign.

    That's how I see it....I could be wrong. But for the post-millennial believer, the difference is the mindset---I am not looking for an early escape, but rather building myself up in the most holy faith to endure (by his grace & enablement) to the end, to persevere in my faith. In the end, it is the work of grace from beginning to end, because I didn't choose Him, He chose me, and I expect Him to keep that which I've committed against that Day! Amen.

  3. Thanks for clarifying. I was giggling as I was reading your response. Last year I was asked whether I was "pre, post or mid trib" believer and so I began to explain this same position (in less detail) and you would would have thought by the look on the guys face, that had just announced that I no longer believed in Jesus. It is amazing how tightly we can hang onto what we have been "taught", without any personal study. Also, the amount of theological "idols" we vehemently defend as if they were the Gospel is astounding!

  4. What about the references to the marriage supper of the Lamb? Doesn't that take place in heaven? I will respond to this more at length later but your post lacks an explaination of how the steps of the Jewish wedding process relate to the events given in Revelation. I feel if you are going to be concrete about such conclusions, you must find some way to dismiss this and other passages of scripture. Does this mean I think you are lost because you do not believe in the rapture of the church? NO. But I believe your post "ranting" in this case lacks a depth of understanding and application of all that Jesus, Paul, John and others had to say on the subject. More to follow...

  5. What about the references to the marriage supper of the Lamb? Good question. Here are my thoughts, but it's all conjecture. We are stuck in time, so we look for a calendar on the wall to tell us what year we're in. But there is no time-space in eternity-it's all relative. Relative to the plans and purposes of God.

    If the Lamb of God wants you at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb He will arrange it. And you will be there! Our coming Messiah is coming to gather ALL His Elect as a single company. He will see to it personally, we can be sure about that.

    This banquet could occur on earth at the 2nd Coming of Christ as well as in Heaven. Or, when the Lord gathers all the elect from the four corners of the earth at his 2nd Coming (which I believe to be the rapture -those caught up with Christ at his 2nd Coming), He could just as easily have the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in Heaven and then descend from Heaven with the elect who will reign with Him for 1000 yrs.

    My ranting is about the foolishness of setting dates and times and leading so many astray and destroying the faith of some saints who are weak or know little of the Scriptures so that they succumb to the teaching and predictions of men.

    My other rant is against the pre-trib rapture which I believe has led to nothing but foolishness during the past several generations. I believe it fits our "escapist" mentality which our drug-induced generation possesses. We want to escape our troubles and problems rather than putting our faith in the Lord and persevering. If you are a pastor who believes in a pre-trib rapture, then chances are, you are NOT teaching your people to persevere in the faith. You're preparing them to look for an easy out--which won't come.

    Those are my thoughts, but I look forward to any other thoughts or criticism you may have. Remember, I started out as Pre-Trib. I sat at the feet of Hal Lindsey before he wrote "The Late Great Planet Earth." I have sat at the feet of Chuck Smith (Calvary Chapel) and have had heavy indoctrination into the pre-trib rapture. I think my reasons for disbelieving it now arise from a better understanding of the Word, and I would have to say that it is "revelation" from the Spirit of God. It was nothing that I was really seeking, but God revealed it to me (1 Cor. 14:26; Gal. 1:12; Eph. 1:17.

  6. I had my wife read this, and she asked, "so do we meet Jesus in the air and then come back down?" It is a simple question but a good one. How do you answer this?

    1. Micaiah, I thought I DID answer your wife's question. Go back and read the 3rd and 4th paragraphs of this post and see if you find the possible answer to your wife's question. I could easily restate it, but I think it's better if you and your wife read those paragraphs again and see if the answer to her question is there. I believe it is.

      Let me know what you find, and if you still can't find the answer, email me at and I'll respond.

  7. I think it makes sense, but I also think part of the reason we meet him and then come back "to the city" is that we must be changed physically. We meet Christ where He is, become as He is, and we stand with Him. Thanks for the post. I haven't studied enough to make a firm stand on this issue yet but I tend to agree with your position thus far.

  8. I'm glad you're giving this some careful consideration. Ultimately, my greatest concern and desire is that saints would realize that they are going to have to persevere, dig in their heels and tough it out (with a tough faith) and look for the 2nd Coming of Jesus. Whether we are caught up in the air or have a banquet feast down here on earth or in heaven, or both, most important is that we are looking for His 2nd Coming and that our lamps are trimmed with oil. That's my big complaint with the pre-trib rapture nonsense--it lulls one into a false sense of just being caught up out of our daily problems so that we don't have to walk out our faith, and we can live irresponsibly, running up bills & credit cards because we're going to be raptured at any moment. That's not the mature faith that I see described in scripture.

    1. Dale,
      You rock. I'm totally with you on this. When I read 1 Thessalonians and Paul talks about, "The Day of the Lord" he obviously was referring to an event the audience would be familiar with. Doing a word search on "The Day of the Lord" in the OT clearly describes an event that is very far from the pre/mid rapture. The eschatology of most evangelicals today is very different than the historical church. I find myself being a pre-wrath, classical pre-millennial guy.
      Thanks for your blog my friend and pastor ;-)
      Hey, will you be at T4G?