REDISCOVERING THE RAPTURE – GETTING OUR END-TIME EVENTS RIGHT IN THE SCRIPTURES
The Covid-19 pandemic and the associated global distress have stimulated increased interest in Bible prophecy and the end times. One of the subjects that have attracted greater attention is the Rapture, which is a major marker in the diverse timelines of end-time events that have been put forward, and arguably the next most consequential event in the history of Christianity and the entire world. I have shared my primary thoughts about the subject on different discussion forums but never got to specifically address it in an article, partly because of the related controversies. However, considering the evidently late hour in which we currently live, I felt an urgency to write this article.
A Popular View of the Rapture
Many expect the Rapture of the faithful members of the Christian Church to occur before the Great Tribulation predicted in Scripture (Daniel 12:1; Matthew 24:21). This, I believe, is an error. Indeed, it is one of the greatest errors among professing Christians that has been entrenched by centuries of traditional and sectarian teaching and further strengthened by our soft and entitled modern version of Christianity. There is no Scripture passage, objectively and properly understood, that teaches of the Rapture of the Church as preceding the Great Tribulation, which will occur during the global reign of the predicted Antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; 1 John 2:18; Romans 13:5-8).
This "pre-tribulation Rapture” is at best inferred from a very few Scripture passages, the most popular of which is perhaps 1 Thessalonians 5:1-9, with an emphasis on the last verse: “For God hath not appointed us to WRATH, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (KJV, all emphases on Scripture portions in this article are added). A second Scripture that has been used for this purpose is Revelation 3:10: “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the HOUR OF TEMPTATION, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” For the moment, we will note that the first passage basically juxtaposes people living in the light with those living in darkness, and predicts that they will have different experiences regarding divine “wrath” on “the day of the Lord” (v. 2; please read the entire passage). Both passages predict salvation for the faithful believers that live in the light, but there is no mention of the Rapture or the time of its occurrence relative to other end-time events. “The day of the Lord” and the “hour of temptation” allude to a broad universal event that impacts both the believing and unbelieving (see Revelation 6:15-17, which echoes the divine “wrath” in 1 Thessalonians 5:9).
Conversely, several Scripture passages clearly portray what we are to expect in the last days regarding the Antichrist, the Great Tribulation, the return of our Lord, and the Rapture of the Church. One of the most vivid is 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.
The True Order of Events
Be sure to read the entirety of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12. The opening verses are especially instructive: “Now we beseech you, brethren, by THE COMING OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, and by OUR GATHERING TOGETHER UNTO HIM, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. LET NO MAN DECEIVE YOU by any means: for THAT DAY SHALL NOT COME, EXCEPT THERE COME A FALLING AWAY FIRST, AND THAT MAN OF SIN BE REVEALED, the son of perdition” (vv. 1-3). This is a warning against deception and wrong teaching regarding the Rapture of the Church, which is set forth as occurring after the revelation of the Antichrist (cf. vv. 6-7). The passage also predicts a broader pre-Rapture “falling away” or departure from the pure Christian faith, something that has been ongoing for quite some time, subtly and not-so-subtly.
As implied, the Church will be here when all the debates and speculations of the ages regarding the identity of the Antichrist are finally put to rest. Now, verses 6-7 indicate that there is something currently restraining the revelation of the Antichrist. Some have speculated that this is the Church or the Holy Spirit in believers, but nothing in the passages says so. Even if it were the Church, it only says that the restraint will eventually be removed, not that the restraint will be taken away from the earth. Nothing associates the removal of the restraint with the Rapture. Rather, a close reading of the entire passage reveals that the presence of the Church will continue until the Antichrist goes on to sit in the “temple” of God and proclaims himself as God. This is generally considered to occur at the middle of a broader seven-year “tribulation” period in the last days, marking the beginning of the “Great Tribulation,” which is expected to last for three and a half years, or forty-two months (Daniel 9:27; Matthew 24:15-22; Revelation 13:5).
The 2 Thessalonians 2 passage describes this situation of things as continuing until the time of the Lord’s return to destroy the Antichrist (v. 8). According to the opening verses of the passage presented above, this time of the Lord’s return to destroy the Antichrist is the same as the time of the saints “gathering together unto him,” or the Rapture. This is abundantly clear. The gathering of the saints unto the Lord at this time is the same as that spoken of in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, which is universally identified with the Rapture: “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.”
The Lord Confirmed this Sequence of Events
The sequence of events outlined in 2 Thessalonians 2 is exactly the same as that described by the Lord in His famous discuss in Matthew 24. Again, be sure to read the entire passage, at least if you are really interested in a personal BIBLICAL understanding of the Rapture. Like Paul, the Lord begins his narration with a warning against deception: “And Jesus answered and said unto them, TAKE HEED THAT NO MAN DECEIVE YOU” (v. 4). He goes on to narrate all that will happen including the sitting of the Antichrist in the temple of God (v. 15) and the Great Tribulation (v. 21). Indeed, verses 15-22 make it clear that the believers will still be around at this time; for the entry of the Antichrist into the Temple of God will be the signal to them of the beginning of the Great Tribulation and their need to take appropriate action. As observed by both Paul and the Lord, and as I noted earlier, these days will be characterized by great deception – religious, spiritual, political, ideological, scientific, etc. – and will cause many professing Christians to abandon the true, Word-based faith for contemporary trends and ideas. As the Lord bears out, it is to save the “very elect,” the sure-faith believers, that this time of great deception and tribulation will be shortened (vv. 22-24).
In perfect agreement with Paul once again, the Lord confirms that it is after these days of great tribulation that He will return to rapture His Church: “Immediately AFTER THE TRIBULATION OF THOSE DAYS shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And THEN SHALL APPEAR THE SIGN OF THE SON OF MAN IN HEAVEN: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a TRUMPET, and they shall GATHER TOGETHER HIS ELECT [that’s exactly the “gathering unto him” that Paul spoke of] from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” [vv. 29-31].
There is absolutely no room for doubt about the sequence of events here. Paul and Christ are in perfect agreement and cannot possibly be both wrong, nor can they be referring to different rapture events. Wrestling with these things can only destroy (2 Peter 3:16).
Arguments and Escapist Ideas
Many have attempted to evade these biblical facts through diverse ideas. Some allege that there are two returns of the Lord – a secret return to take His Church before the Great Tribulation, and a second after the Great Tribulation to defeat the Antichrist and establish His earthly kingdom. Some of the advocates of this idea claim that, wherever we read about the return of the Lord in the Gospels (Matthew to John), it is the second return to reign, while the Epistles speak of the secret return to rapture the Church. Such claims are preposterous and baffling. As we have seen, the sequences of end-time events presented in Matthew 24 and 2 Thessalonians 2 are exactly alike and do not allow for such dichotomy.
The Bible speaks of only one return of the Lord, which we commonly refer to as the Second Coming. At the time of the Lord’s ascension, the angel said to the by-standing believers, “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” (Acts 1:11). When the Lord returns, He will rapture His saints to meet Him “in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17), and He will then proceed to defeat the Antichrist and establish His kingdom. Whether the entire band of the saints immediately follow the Lord on this encounter with the Antichrist is a different question from that of the Rapture and beyond the scope of this article.
There is another bizarre idea that has been used to promote a pre-tribulation Rapture. The proponents of this idea claim that the tribulation that the Lord speaks of in Matthew 24:21 is not the end-time tribulation, but that experienced by the Jews during the desolation of Jerusalem in AD 70. Considering that the Lord describes this tribulation as being greater than any that the world has ever experienced or ever will experience, the proponents of this idea go on to assert that the end-time tribulation will not be as great as that of AD 70. That should tell you how confused and twisted folks could become when they refuse to accept clear Scripture indications. Such is what happens when we tenaciously hold on to preconceived ideas and traditional doctrines.
One factor that seems to propel the pre-tribulation Rapture idea is escapism. Folks do not want to suffer. Of course, no one desires to suffer. However, the countless saints that have suffered severe persecution and tribulation in diverse places and at different times through the Church age are no less Christian than we are, nor were they redeemed by another blood less precious than that of Christ. Their experience was divinely foreseen and part of the divine foreordination. It was not without reason that Christ admonished, “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). What we should be praying for is the needed grace and strength for the path that the Lord has ordained for each of us. As the songwriter said, “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.”
As implied earlier, however, our proper understanding of these things, or otherwise, will be a major determinant of exactly how the hour of the coming Great Tribulation will impact us.
(To be continued.)
© David Olagoke Olawoyin