Focus On Jerusalem


Our Blessed Hope
By Chuck Missler

Our Blessed Hope
by Chuck Missler

We continue to receive many questions concerning the "Rapture" of the church and its apparent contrast with the "Second Coming" of Jesus Christ. Where does this strange view come from? Is the term "rapture" even in the Bible? Clearly, the idea of the Rapture can be considered the most preposterous belief in Biblical Christianity. It reminds me of the famous quote by Dr. Richard Feynman, speaking of quantum physics:

I think it is safe to say that no one understands quantum mechanics... in fact, it is often stated of all the theories proposed in this century, the silliest is quantum theory. Some say that the only thing that quantum theory has going for it, in fact, is that it is unquestionably correct.

The situation regarding the doctrine of the Rapture is painfully similar.

The Harpázô
The mysterious event known as the Rapture is most clearly presented in Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians, in which he encourages the grieving Christians that, at the "great snatch," they will be reunited with those who have died in Christ before them.

But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 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 precede 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 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. -1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

In verse 17, the English phrase "caught up" translates the Greek word harpázô, which means "to seize upon with force" or "to snatch up." There are those who claim that the word "rapture" isn't in their Bible. That's because they aren't using the Latin translation:

...deinde nos qui vivimus qui relinquimur simul rapiemur cum illis in nubibus obviam Domino in aera et sic semper cum Domino erimus.. -1 Thessalonians 4:17 (Latin Vulgate)

The Latin equivalent of the Greek harpázô is the Latin verb rapio, "to take away by force." In the Latin Vulgate, one of the oldest Bibles in existence, the appropriate tense of rapio appears in verse 17. (Raptus is the past participle of rapio, and our English words "rapt" and "rapture" stem from this past participle.) At the Rapture, living believers will be "caught up" in the air, translated into the clouds, in a moment in time, to join the Lord in the air.

The Promise
This will be the fulfillment of the promise which our Lord confirmed at the Last Supper:

Let not your heart be troubled: ye 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 unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. -John 14:1-3

This thrilling promise wasn't given to everyone, only to His believers. (Judas had already left by then.) This appears to parallel the promise of the bridegroom in the pattern of the ancient Jewish wedding, where, after the ketubah, the engagement, but before the huppah, the formal ceremony, the groom departed to prepare a new home for his bride, usually an addition to his father's house. The bride was kept in a state of expectancy pending his return-often in the middle of the night, as a surprise. (The huppah, the wedding ceremony, was followed with a seven-day celebration, etc.)

The Process
The anticipation of a bodily resurrection after life on this earth pervades the entire Bible. In the oldest book of the Bible, Job declares: For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me. -Job 19:25-27

Yet, when our Lord comes to gather His church, there will be a generation alive at that time. In his discussion of the Resurrection in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul again deals with this astonishing event: 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. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? -1 Corinthians 15:51-55

(From quantum physics considerations, I suspect that this transformation, "in the twinkling of an eye," will occur digitally in 10-43 of a second.)

The Imminent Gathering
Clearly, the Bible teaches us to expect Him at any moment. This is called the Doctrine of Imminency: it is next on the program and may take place very soon. (The word "imminent" should not be confused with "immanent," which, in theological contexts, means that God is not only transcendent, or far above us, but that He is always with us and active on our behalf. Nor should it be confused with "eminent," which is a title of honor reserved for persons of outstanding distinction.)

Imminency expresses hope and a warm spirit of expectancy, which should result in a victorious and purified life. Believers are taught to expect the Savior from heaven at any moment. Paul seemed to include himself among those who looked for Christ's return. Timothy was admonished to "keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ." Jewish converts were reminded that "yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry." Some have concluded that the expectation of some were so strong they had stopped work and had to be exhorted to return to their jobs, and have patience.

Two Events?
There are many that hold to the view that emerged in the Medieval church (Catholic and Protestant) that the "Second Coming" of Christ and the "Rapture" are somehow the same. Yet there seems to be a number of indications that these are distinct and separate. In contrast to the imminent gathering of His church, there are numerous passages that deal with precedent events which must transpire prior to the "Second Coming" to establish His kingdom on the earth. Some of the passages referring to the Rapture and the Second Coming are summarized at the the table below.

Rapture Second Coming
John 14:1-3 Dan 2:44-45
Rom 8:19 Dan 7:9-14
1 Cor 1:7-8 Dan 12:1-3
1 Cor 15:1-53 Zech 14:1-15
1 Cor 16:22 Matt 13:41
Phil 3:20-21 Matt 24:15-31
Col 3:4 Matt 26:64
1 Thess 1:10 Mark 13:14-27
1 Thess 2:19 Mark 14:62
1 Thess 4:13-18 Luke 21:25-28
1 Thess 5:9 Acts 1:9-11
1 Thess 5:23 Acts 3:19-21
2 Thess 2:1 (3?) 1 Thess 3:13
1 Tim 6:14 2 Thess 1:6-10
2 Tim 4:1 2 Thess 2:8
Titus 2:13 2 Peter 3:1-14
Heb 9:28 Jude 14-15
James 5:7-9 Rev 1:7
1 Peter 1:7, 13 Rev 19:11-20:6
1 John 2:28-3:2 Rev 22:7, 12, 20
Jude 21  
Rev 2:25  
Rev 3:10  

Why So Many Views?
There are, of course, many differing views, especially regarding matters of eschatology - the study of "last things." This diversity derives from several factors: the disciplines associated with hermeneutics - the theory of interpretation - as well as the need to integrate an understanding of the entirety of God's revealed plan of redemption: "the whole counsel of God."

The need to relate the various elements of end-time events, such as the Great Tribulation, the events surrounding the Seventieth Week of Daniel, the Millennium, and other related issues, requires precise definitions and diligent study. We will address many of these in our subsequent articles in the hopes that they will prove helpful in understanding these issues and assisting you in formulating your own views regarding these challenges. (We will discover that some of the principal controversies are more an issue of ecclesiology than eschatology! But more of this next time.)

These are not "peripheral" issues (as they may have seemed in the past). We believe we are being plunged into a period of time about which the Bible says more than it does about any other period of human history-including the time that Jesus walked the shore of the Sea of Galilee and climbed the mountains of Judea! It is the most exciting time to be alive! But if we are to be diligent stewards, we need to carefully revise our priorities to match His!

All through the Gospels, Jesus relied on the ancient Jewish wedding pattern for many of His parables, climaxing in His promise in the Upper Room in John 14 (as reviewed in our previous article). Many of us miss the full import of these allusions if we aren't familiar with the model of ancient Jewish wedding practices.

Jewish Wedding
The first step, the Ketubah, or Betrothal, was the establishment of the marriage covenant, usually when the prospective bridegroom took the initiative and negotiated the price (mohair) he must pay to purchase her. Once the bridegroom paid the purchase price, the marriage covenant was established, and the young man and woman were regarded as husband and wife. From that moment on, the bride was declared to be consecrated or sanctified, set apart, exclusively for her bridegroom. As a symbol of the covenant relationship that had been established, the groom and bride drank from a cup of wine over which the betrothal had been pronounced. After the marriage covenant was established, the groom left his bride at her home and returned to his father's house, where he remained separated from his bride for approximately 12 months. This afforded the bride time to gather her trousseau and prepare for married life. During this period of separation, the groom prepared a dwelling place in his father's house to which he would later bring his bride. At the end of the period of separation, the bridegroom came - usually at night - to take his bride to live with him. The groom, the best man, and other male escorts left the father's house and conducted a torch-light procession to the home of the bride. Although the bride was expecting her groom to come for her, she did not know the time of his coming. As a result, the groom's arrival was preceded by a shout, which announced her imminent departure to be gathered with him.

After the groom received his bride, together with her female attendants, the enlarged wedding party returned from the bride's home to the groom's father's house, where the wedding guests had assembled.

Shortly after their arrival, the bride and groom were escorted by the other members of the wedding party to the bridal chamber (huppah). Prior to entering the chamber, the bride remained veiled so that no one could see her face. While the groomsmen and bridesmaids waited outside, the bride and groom entered the bridal chamber alone. There, in the privacy of that place, they entered into physical union for the first time, thereby consummating the marriage that had been covenanted approximately one year earlier.

After the marriage was consummated, the groom came out of the bridal chamber and announced the consummation of the marriage to the members of the wedding party waiting outside. Then, as the groom went back to his bride in the chamber, the members of the wedding party returned to the wedding guests and announced the consummation of the marriage. Upon receiving the good news, the wedding guests remained in the groom's father's house for the next seven days, celebrating with a great wedding feast. During the seven days of the wedding feast, the bride and groom remained hidden in the bridal chamber (Cf. Genesis 29:21-23, 27-28) for the seven days of the huppah. Afterwards, the groom came out of hiding, bringing his bride with him, but with her veil removed so that everyone could see her.

The Ultimate Bride
The New Testament portrays the Church as the Bride of Christ in Ephesians 5:22-33 (Paul even quotes Genesis 2:24 as the union at the Parousia of the Bridegroom in v.31!); Romans 7:4; 2 Corinthians 11:2; James 4:4. In the opening verses of John 14, the marriage covenant is confirmed. Paul continually reminds us of the purchase price and the covenant by which we, the Bride, are set apart, or sanctified.

Ecclesiology vs. Eschatology
It is this distinctive nature of the Church that is often overlooked by students of prophecy: it is more a matter of ecclesiology than eschatology. One thing that seems to highlight this distinctiveness is the strange remark Jesus made regarding John the Baptist: Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. -Matthew 11:11

What does that mean? Jesus goes on to explain,

For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. - Matthew 11:13

It is John the Baptist that closes the Old Testament, not Malachi. A profound distinction appears to be drawn between the saints of the Old Testament and those of the New. One of the challenges in fully appreciating Paul's epistles is the need to understand the staggering and distinctive advantages afforded the Church, in contrast to those of the Old Testament saints. And it is this role as the Bride of the Bridegroom that is emphasized in the parables and in the Book of Revelation.

The Departure of the Bridegroom
The Bridegroom has departed, and His return to gather His Bride is imminent. He has gone to prepare a place for you and me. (He has been at it for 2,000 years! It must be a spectacular abode!) This very doctrine of "imminence" is taught throughout the New Testament and is a cornerstone of the "pre-tribulational" view: there is no event which is a prerequisite condition for His gathering of His Bride.

The Great Tribulation
There are those who believe the Church will go through the Great Tribulation. In exploring this issue, it is essential to distinguish between persecution, which clearly has been the lot of the Church for 19 centuries, and "the Great Tribulation" of eschatological significance. The persecution - and tribulation, of the Church was clearly promised to us: These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. -John 16:33

The source of this tribulation is the world and, of course, Satan. However, "the Great Tribulation" of eschatological significance is quite another matter. For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. -Matthew 24:21

The context here is clearly Israel. Jesus is quoting from the Old Testament: And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book -Daniel 12:1

Note that "thy people will be delivered": the focus of the "Great Tribulation" is Israel. That is why it is called "the time of Jacob's Trouble": Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble; but he shall be saved out of it. -Jeremiah 30:7

Jesus (in the Old Testament) explains:

I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me earnestly. -Hosea 5:15

To "return," He must have left His place! The offence referred to is singular and specific: their rejection of Him. In "their affliction" they will ultimately repent and He will respond. The Great Tribulation also involves more than the wrath of the world or the wrath of Satan: it involves the indignation and wrath of God. In contrast, the Church has been promised: For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,-1 Thessalonians 5:9

And, Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. -Romans 5:9

And, specifically, Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour [time] of temptation [trial], which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. -Revelation 3:10

Peter also emphasizes, The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished: -2 Peter 2:9

Here, Peter is using the judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah "as an example," as Jesus also did, in which the prior removal of Lot was a precondition before the angels could do their work.

A complete study of this issue involves careful and diligent study of both the Church (ecclesiology) as well as the eschatology (end time aspects) of the Great Tribulation, which, of course, far exceeds the focus of this brief review. It requires precise definitions of the terms used, and great care to understand how each of the elements of the revealed truth relate to each other.

But the fundamental doctrine of imminence has to be forfeited with any view that requires the Great Tribulation, or any other precedent event, to occur prior to the Rapture. 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 21:36

Since Paul highlights that the mystery of the Church was his privilege to reveal in the New Testament, it is fashionable to assume that it would be futile to expect any references to the Rapture of the Church in the Old Testament. However, here are some provocative passages for your personal consideration:

Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead. Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. For, behold, the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain. -Isaiah 26:19-21

Who are to enter which chambers? How long are they to be hidden? (Compare this with John 14:1-3 and come to your own conclusions.) And there are others: Seek ye the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger. - Zephaniah 2:3

For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock. -Psalm 27:5

But to me, the most provocative are the consistent pattern, or "types," metaphors, and similes, in the Old Testament:

Pattern is Prologue
It is interesting to notice the patterns that seem to be suggested in the Biblical text. One of the greatest judgments on the Planet Earth was, of course, the flood during the days of Noah. It is obvious that there were three groups of people facing that judgment:

1) Those that perished in the Flood;

2) Those who were preserved through the Flood, by means of the ark; and

3) Those who were removed prior to the Flood, namely, Enoch. (It can be argued that he was only one person, but so is the Church!

Enoch is, for many reasons, one of the most intriguing characters in the Old Testament. There are also several provocative Jewish traditions regarding Enoch. He is regarded as having been born on the day the Jews observe Hag Shavout, the Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost. What is also interesting is that, by tradition, he is also believed to have been "translated" (or "raptured") on his birthday. Since the Church was "born" on this day, one wonders if we, too, will be "raptured" on its birthday! (As some pre-tribbers love to point out, Enoch wasn't "mid-flood" or "post-flood," he was "pre-flood.") We all have enjoyed the famous confrontation between Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel's three friends in the fiery furnace in Daniel 3. Many prophecy buffs view Nebuchadnezzar and the forced worship of his image as a "type" of the Antichrist, and the three Jewish young men as a foreshadowing of the 144,000 miraculously preserved through the "furnace" of the tribulation. That leaves a provocative question: Where was Daniel himself? Who might he represent as a type?

Some prophecy buffs see the use of a threshing floor as an idiom alluding to the tribulation. The marvelous romance of Ruth, who becomes the Gentile bride of Boaz, her Kinsman-Redeemer, is seen as an anticipatory type of the Church and her Redeemer. In the critical threshing floor scene in chapter 3, where is Ruth? At the feet of her Redeemer. Interesting. In Genesis 22, Abraham left the donkey and the two young men at the foot of the hill as he and Isaac went up to the top of Moriah for the famous offering of his son. After the episode concludes with the substitution of the ram, it lists those that then returned to Beersheba: So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba.

Genesis 22:19
Where's Isaac? Obviously, Isaac also returned with Abraham and the two young men. But we are fascinated that the Holy Spirit appears to have edited the person of Isaac out of the record from the time he was offered until he is united with his bride two chapters later! We believe this was deliberate to have the narrative fully conform to the type.

We continue to receive many questions concerning the "Rapture of the Church" and its apparent contrast with the "Second Coming" of Jesus Christ. Where does this view come from? Is the term "rapture" even in the Bible?

The mysterious event known as the Rapture is most clearly represented in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, which encourages the grieving Christians that, at the "great snatch," they will be reunited with those who have died in Christ before them. In verse 17, the English phrase "caught up" translates the Greek word harpazo, which means "to seize upon with force" or "to snatch up." The Latin translators of the Bible used the word "rapturo," the root of the English term "Rapture." At the Rapture, living believers will be "caught up" in the air, translated into the clouds, in a moment in time to join the Lord in the air. There are many that still hold to the view that emerged in the Medieval church (Catholic and Protestant) that the "Second Coming" of Christ and the "Rapture" are somehow the same. Yet there seems to be a number of indications that these are distinct and separate. There is also predicted an unparalleled "time of trouble" that Jesus called the "Great Tribulation." Many hold to the view that the Rapture of the church will occur after that specific period of time, thus, closely associating it with the Second Coming. This is known as the "post-tribulation" view.

Post-Tribulation Views
There are at least four distinct types of post-tribulational views:

1. Classic post-tribulationism (J. Barton Payne, et al);

2. Semi-classic post-tribulation ism (Alexander Reese);

3. Futuristic post-tribulationism (George E. Ladd);

4. Dispensational post-tribulationism (Robert H. Gundry).

These differing views are based upon different approaches, presuppositions, and argumentation. In fact, they substantially contradict each other. As one insists on literalness, each of these views must embrace in creasing difficulties. Those of us who cling to a very literal view of the Scriptures believe that the church will be removed prior to the tribulation period (the "pre-tribulation" view). Why? What is the basis for this view?

The Pre-Tribulation View
The Rapture is characterized in the New Testament as a "translation coming" (1 Corinthians 15:51- 52; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17) in which the Lord comes for His church, taking her to His Father's House (John 14:3). However, at Christ's Second Coming with His saints, He descends from heaven to set up His Messianic Kingdom on earth (Zechariah 14:4-5; Matthew 24:27-31). The differences between the two events are harmonized naturally by the "pre-trib" position, while other views are not able to ac count comfortably for such differences.

A New Testament Mystery
Paul speaks of the Rapture as a "mystery" (1 Corinthians 15:51-54), that is, a truth not revealed until its disclosure by the apostles (Colossians 1:26). The Second Coming, on the other hand, was predicted in the Old Testament (Daniel 12:1-3; Zechariah 12:10; 14:4). In fact, the oldest prophecy uttered by a prophet was given before the flood of Noah and was of the Second Coming! It was given by Enoch, and quoted in Jude 14-15. The movement of the believer at the Rapture is from earth to heaven; at the Second Coming it is from heaven to earth. At the Rapture, the Lord comes for His saints (1 Thessalonians 4:16), while at the Second Coming the Lord comes with His saints (1 Thessalonians 3:13).

Post-tribulation Problems
One of the strengths of the pre-trib view is that it is better able to harmonize the many events of end-time prophecy because of the above distinctions. There are some awkward difficulties with the post-tribulational view:

1)The post-tribulation view requires that the church be present during the 70th week of Daniel (Daniel 9:24-27), even though it was absent from the first 69. This is in spite of the fact that Dan 9:24 indicates that all 70 weeks are for Israel. We believe the church must depart prior to the 70th week, before the final seven-year period.

2)The post-tribulation view denies the New Testament teaching of imminency--that Christ could come at any moment--since there are intervening events required in that view. We believe there are no signs that must precede the Rapture.

3) The post-tribulation view has difficulties with who will populate the Millennium if the Rapture and the Second Coming occur at essentially the same time. Since all believers will be translated at the Rapture and all unbelievers are judged, because no unrighteous shall be allowed to enter Christ's Kingdom, then no one would be left in mortal bodies to start the population base for the Millennium.

4) Similarly, post-tribulationism is not able to explain the sheep and goats judgment after the Second Coming in Matthew 25:3- 46. Where would the believers in mortal bodies come from if they are raptured at the Second Coming? Who would be able to enter into Christ's Kingdom?

5) The Bride of Christ, the church, is made ready to accompany Christ to earth (Revelation 19:7-8, 14) before the Second Coming, but how could this reasonably happen if part of the church is still on the earth awaiting the Second Coming? If the Rapture of the church takes place at the Second Coming, then how does the Bride (the church) also come with Christ at His Return?

While many diligent scholars disagree, most of their views derive from their presuppositions about the Scripture. The more literal a view, the more there is an adoption of a pre-millennial pre-tribulation position. We encourage you to review the various passages yourself and develop your own conclusions. This is our "Blessed Hope," and you will not find a more exciting and rewarding discovery. This topic is perhaps the most demanding from the point of view of requiring the greatest amount of integration of many portions of Scripture. Remember Acts 17:11: "Receive the Word with all readiness of mind, but search the Scriptures daily to prove whether those things be so."

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