REDISCOVERING THE RAPTURE – GETTING OUR END-TIME EVENTS RIGHT IN THE SCRIPTURES (II)
(For the first part of the article, click here.)
Not Appointed to Wrath
So, how do we reconcile the above-mentioned sequence of end-time events with Scripture passages that teach that believers have not been appointed to wrath and that they will be kept from the hour of temptation that will come upon the entire world? Firstly, we must note that Revelation 3:10 was primarily addressed to the “church in Philadelphia.” In other words, while the message of the letter in which it is contained, like the rest of the Revelation, has a broader prophetic and universal application (see Revelation 1:1-3), the verse must be read in its immediate context and appropriately extended. By the way, this verse (Revelation 3:10) also poses a challenge to those who only see localized applications of the Seven Letters of the Revelation. Nevertheless, 1 Thessalonians 5:9 clearly has a universal application: “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Lord gives us the resolution of this issue farther on in Matthew 24: “But AS THE DAYS OF NOAH WERE, so also will THE COMING OF THE SON OF MAN be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, UNTIL THE DAY THAT NOAH ENTERED THE ARK, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, SO ALSO WILL THE COMING OF THE SON OF MAN BE” (vv. 37-39). Did you see it? Noah was not raptured but had prior revelation about the coming wrath and divine instruction about how to escape the global flood, a type of the coming global tribulation. The Lord’s comparison of His coming with Noah’s going into the ark parallels the testimony of Paul that there is something that must be taken out of the way before the full revelation of the Antichrist for who he really is. Some argue that Enoch was translated before Noah, but Christ did not make a mistake by mentioning Noah. Neither is there anywhere in the Scriptures where the Rapture or any experience of the Church is paralleled with the translation of Enoch. Nevertheless, I will still return to Enoch.
As the Bible teaches, Old Testament events were purposed to serve as examples for last-day believers, “upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). We have seen the example of Noah, but there is also the very relevant example of the Israelites, the Old Testament Church. The Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt was a definite type of the Rapture of the New Testament Church. The severe plagues that fell upon Egypt (Exodus 7-12) in the lead up to the Exodus are a type of the diverse events that will plague the world during the end-time tribulation (see Revelation 7-9, 15-16). This will culminate in the return of the Lord, the Rapture of the Church, and the destruction of the Antichrist and his armies (Revelation 19:11-21), just as Pharaoh and his armies were destroyed (Exodus 14) and the children of Israel went on to possess the Promised Land, a type of the earthly kingdom of Christ in the Millennium (Revelation 20:4-6).
However, it is most instructive that, through all that troublous time in Egypt, the Israelites were secure in Goshen and shielded from the divine wrath (e.g., Exodus 9:26). This, like Noah’s protection in the Ark, is a type of how the Lord will keep His saints from the hour of temptation that will come upon the entire world (Revelation 3:10). Truly, “God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). This does not require our forcing a pre-tribulation rapture, which is nowhere proposed in Scripture. The preservation implied in Scripture passages that exclude believers from the Great Tribulation is not via the Rapture but through the Lord’s divinely provided way of escape, as God did for the Israelites in the dark hour of Egypt.
Wise and Foolish Believers
This is where things get trickier. The fact that the Lord has not appointed us to wrath does not mean that no professing Christian will experience wrath during the Great Tribulation. Indeed, MANY professing Christians will pass through the horrors of that time (see Matthew 24:12-13; Revelation 2:10). As the apostles and the Lord also predicted, many professing Christians caught in the Great Tribulation will compromise and yield to the Antichrist when things begin to heat up and they are faced with severe consequences of their profession (Matthew 24:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 Timothy 4:1). The compromise will begin even before the Great Tribulation commences. The reasons why some Christians will pass through the Great Tribulation include spiritual complacence, laxity, and plain spiritual foolishness – obsession with the temporal things of the present life and religious traditions at the expense of true biblical faith and engagement. It can be summarized in a lack of a true revelation of the Word of God and sound biblical doctrine and worldview.
This is the essence of the Lord’s Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25: 1-13. All ten virgins had lamps, which is symbolic of the Word (Psalm 119:105), but only the five wise ones had sufficient amounts of oil, which in this context is symbolic of sufficient revelation of the Word by the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:18). It was when things began to happen that the five foolish virgins realized their negligence and folly. While they panicked for a solution, the wise five “went in” (v. 10), an indication of going into “Goshen,” the Lord’s provided place of salvation from the wrath to come. When the foolish virgins eventually discovered the way to “Goshen,” it was too late (vv. 11-12). To use the words of the Lord farther on in the chapter, “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” for the foolish virgins in the hands of the Antichrist.
Will “Goshen” be a physical place? As at now, I don’t know. Nevertheless, Revelation 12:6 suggests a particular place of refuge, a “sanctuary city,” and the words of the Lord in Matthew 24:28 suggest the possibility of other such sanctuary locations around the world. May I also add that, for reasons of the divine purpose and by divine wisdom, some sincere believers may also have to suffer the temptations of the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:13; Revelation 2:10). This is why, as I noted in the previous part of this article, what we should be praying for is the grace needed for our divinely appointed paths, whatever they may involve.
Dispensationalism and the One Church of Christ
Having come this far, I believe that we have been able to discover the essentials of the Rapture of the Church in the Scriptures. However, I must emphasize that what we have been looking at is the Rapture of THE CHURCH. Don’t get me wrong, there is ONLY ONE Church of Christ. The idea of a special Bride Church and another larger body of the Church is wrong. There is only one Church of Christ comprising both Jews and Gentiles, “For by ONE SPIRIT are we all baptized into ONE BODY, whether we be JEWS OR GENTILES, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into ONE SPIRIT” (1 Corinthians 12:13; cf. Romans 11:11-24). This one Church of Christ will be raptured at the same time, at the coming of the Lord, after the Great Tribulation. The Rapture will include all dead and living believers at that time: “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” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; cf. Matthew 24:30-31).
Nevertheless, while I am not a “Dispensationalist” – I avoid all such theological and other labels apart from “Christian” – I believe that there is an element of dispensationalism in the Christian era. But it does not require a pre-tribulation rapture. The Church started among the Jews, but they were hardened that the fullness of the gentiles might be brought in (Romans 11:25). But the promise is that the Gospel will again return to the Jews, so that “all Israel” may be saved (Romans 11:26). As implied, however, these primary dealings of God with Jews and Gentiles are not separated by a rapture, as some dispensationalists teach. The early Jewish Christians were not raptured before the Gospel center moved to the Gentiles, and there will be no need for Gentile Christians to be raptured before the Gospel center returns to the Jews.
Truth is, the Gentile church has practically had its time. If you are spiritually sensitive, you might have noticed that, as a church, we have largely been coasting. Despite all our diverse programs and projects, nothing significant is happening within our church organizations. It has been mostly ceremonies and programs. That is how the Jews have been while we were experiencing the great riches of Christ during the Gentile Church era. They were not raptured, but were right here with us with mere religious motions, with a few of them coming to the knowledge of Christ and salvation through Him. That is how it is going to be when the center of the Lord’s dealing returns to the Jews. The Gentile church will not be taken away from earth, but our religious organizations will just be coasting with ceremonies and programs, and in some cases, worse, just as some severe things have come out of Judaism. It is right upon us, but we still have a choice.
This is the reason why, at the end of the Seven Letters to the Seven Churches in Revelation 2-3, which are together prophetic of the entire Gentile Christian era (cf. Revelation 1:1-3), Christ said, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if ANY MAN hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in TO HIM, and will sup WITH HIM, and HE WITH ME” (Revelation 3:20). If any Gentile is going to experience anything substantial today, it will largely be apart from our church structures and more through an individual quest and encounter with Christ, however it is brought about. It may be through your pastor, but by means of a more personal engagement, not by merely attending church services or participation in church programs. This does not invalidate local Gentile churches – and it is not as if we have been having much of such lately, which by itself is instructive – but it only means that the PRIMARY dealing of Christ with Gentile believers is changing. We are moving back to the days of Christian DISCIPLESHIP and FELLOWSHIP, with the added benefit of modern technology. By the time the Lord is done with the Jews in the last days, all believers whose faith survive – and that’s saying it as it is – and all the dead in Christ will go up in the ONE RAPTURE of the ONE CHURCH OF CHRIST.
An Outstanding Mystery
As I have tried to emphasize, the Rapture that we have examined in this article is that of THE CHURCH. Moreover, there is only ONE CHURCH comprising JEWS AND GENTILES (Romans 11:11-24). However, there is an aspect of the mystery of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 3:4, 5:32) that we have apparently not fully appreciated, or are entirely oblivious of. To put it concisely, I believe that there will be a comparatively very small group of special believers in the last days who are not exactly part of the Church and will be raptured sometime before the Great Tribulation. I repeat, these mysterious people are NOT members of the Christian Church. They are typed in the mysterious Enoch who walked with God, left his testimony (Jude 1:14), and quietly took to the skies before the tribulation of Noah’s time.
The Lord willing, we will look at this mystery in a third part of this article. It is primarily depicted in the Revelation but attested to throughout Scripture. In doing so, we will also discover how the present exposition of the Rapture and other end-time events is VIVIDLY and BEAUTIFULLY confirmed by a proper understanding of the Revelation. Grace be with you.
© David Olagoke Olawoyin