What is Next for Christians?
Don’t you wonder what they will say? Millions suddenly disappear from all over the earth. Traffic jams, plane crashes, and international disasters–there was a large, loud, atmospheric disturbance, and then millions gone. Obviously police, fire and rescue crews will be overtaxed. Governments will issue a state of emergency as Christian homes and businesses will be targets for looters. But what will they say? I guaranty, there will be two major responses.
1 Dr. Human Istic from Berkley will dogmatically declare, “UFOs took millions for research, slavery or food supply. We saw it–the aliens yanked millions into the upper atmosphere, where their ships carried them away.” Secondly . . .
2 The Pope, The grand Mufti of Islam, and several prominent Christian TV personalities will agree that all those who disappear were taken away in judgment. Those unloving, fundamentalists who believe Christ was the only way of salvation were finally punished. They will misquote Matthew 25:31 to 46 and declare that, “Those narrow, hardhearted, extremist goats were snatched away. And now we broadminded sheep can live in peace and rebuild God’s Kingdom on Earth.”
I believe the two main theories will be that they disappeared because aliens took them, or God judged them. That is my best guess. But regardless of what they say, it will be so traumatic for the people of the earth that it will begin the Great Tribulation with no Christians. The Rapture will leave the world without believers, except maybe for two prophets–I am volunteering. And quickly 144,000 Jews who will evangelize the world.
How will the world respond when all Christians disappear? For sure, if our day has taught us anything, with confidence we know they will not tell the truth–but I long to proclaim the truth, God’s Word, about the Rapture. There are three truths I must highlight about our snatching away. First, the Rapture is a fact. Second, the Rapture is first. Third, the Rapture is final. The chart in the outline lets you know where the Rapture fits in God’s plan, and the Bible affirms that.
#1 The Rapture is a FACT
Is the Rapture close? I believe it is, and you need to be ready. The Rapture of the Church is sudden and unannounced. But there are a few things that must be in place or close at hand for the Rapture to be more ready, ripe, closer–are we closer? In order for the Tribulation to take place, the Tribulation which actually begins with the Rapture, there are events which must be in place.
Israel must be back in the land of Israel–and they are, since 1948. The Temple must be ready to be rebuilt, and it is. The world must be at its lowest moral and spiritual condition–you judge. Russia must be hostile to Israel. Europe must be loosely cooperating with each other. And the world must be linked by one great economy, like the USA. Do you think we are close to the Rapture?
The word Rapture does not occur in the New Testament. The word comes from a Latin word rapere, which comes directly from the Greek word harpadzo, which means caught up, or to seize. Thus the Rapture is the return of Jesus Christ for all believers in the Church age. Christians who are dead will be resurrected, then those who are alive will be caught up or snatched up to meet the Lord in the air to be with Him forever. Is it true, is it factual, is everything satisfactual? If you believe the Bible, your answer is yes. To prove it, turn to three passages.
The first is John 14:1 to 3. In John 13, Jesus has just taken His disciples to the Upper Room and jolted them with some shocking news, so as to prepare them for His departure. First, He tells them He will be betrayed by one of them. Then He tells them He is going away. This troubles the disciples, so Jesus says in John 14:1, “’Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3If 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.’”
The disciples are about to lose the one for whom they sacrificed everything. The one who had the words of eternal life. The one who had been their guide and source for everything that matters. So how does Jesus comfort them? First with a call to faith–believe in God. Hang in there, men–God always comes through, and so do I. Then with a promise which called for faith in His program.
When He says, “to prepare a place for you,” He is not talking about manufacturing you a brand new place–Christ literally is readying up, equipping, and furnishing up some dwellings for you. What does that mean? It refers to an Oriental dwelling. In the tradition of old, in the Father’s house, all the rooms face a center patio–and there are no outside openings, except for the main gate in the front. (Jesus said, “I am the Door”–the only way in.) Sometimes when a son would marry, the father would wall off another room or two, to provide a new dwelling for each new family, all around the center court.
The thought of preparing a place is not mansions (it’s not the Angel Construction Company)–but unity and togetherness. The disciples would be comforted they again would live with Christ in the same dwelling, united with one another and with the Father. He is readying up your room. The great attraction to eternity is not Heaven, but Christ. And just as a bridegroom desires to keep his bride with him wherever he may be, so the Lord Jesus, because of His love for us (His Church/His bride) desires us to be with Him.
And did you notice, it is not the angels who are coming for us, but the Lord Himself? Jesus says in verse 3, “I will come again,” using the present tense as if His coming were such a reality it was already happening. It is the Lord’s way of saying, ”It is as good as done.” So now He is preparing a dwelling place, as a groom does for his bride, so that we might be at home with Him forever. So is this the Rapture?
Well, if it were the Second Coming, it would describe us returning to the earth with Christ to reign with Him in the Kingdom. It would be in the context of the close of the 7-year Tribulation. But this passage talks about us going away to be with the Lord to His dwelling place–so yes, this is the Rapture. You say, “Prove it.”
Then turn to the second, 1 Corinthians 15:51 to 53. In the chapter teaching the resurrection, Paul gives us some insight into the Church’s hope when he says in verse 51, “Behold, I tell you a mystery.” The word mystery is not used here like it is today. When a writer uses it, he is referring to something that was hidden in the Old Testament, but now is revealed in the New Testament. So verse 51 is telling us something that was not previously disclosed in the Old Testament. What is this mystery?
Is it the resurrection, where the dead come to life? No. In Job 19:26 to 27 and Daniel 12:2, that has already been taught. But what is not known is, “we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed.” The mystery is that some believers will be translated up to Heaven without dying–the Rapture. All believers will be changed and get a transformed, glorified body, but not all believers will die. That was a mystery now revealed.
How will it happen? Paul continues in verse 52, “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead [in Christ will be first] will be raised imperishable, and we [the living] will be changed.” How fast will the Rapture be? How fast will it take for you to be changed? How fast is a “twinkling of an eye“? It is not a blink–that is a separate word in Greek. But the time it takes for a beam of light to travel from the surface of your eye to the retina–that probably is a twinkle (no, not a Twinkie).
Now it takes light 1.5 seconds to get from the earth to the moon–can you imagine how fast you will disappear when it occurs in the twinkling of an eye? One science buff figured out the exact length of time for a twinkle–it is one-sixth of a nanosecond. A microsecond is one millionth of a second, and a nanosecond is one thousandth of one millionth of a second. And the twinkling of an eye (the Rapture) is one sixth of a nanosecond. Again, this cannot be the Second Coming of Christ, since the Bible says, “every eye will see”.
And what kind of body are we going to get? Read verse 53, “For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.” Verse 51 says “we will all be changed.” What will we be changed into? What kind of body will you get? Well, Philippians 3:20 to 21 and 1 John 3:2 say our glorified bodies will be like Christ’s. What was Christ’s glorified body like? Listen . . .
•He will come in the same body He left in 2,000 years ago
•He could appear and disappear, as well as go through walls
•He could eat honeycomb and show the disciples the scars on His hands and feet
•He could speak and be understood
•He stood on a mountain and just took off into space (that will help with the shopping, won’t it ladies?)
•He could transport Himself by a thought (think Hawaii, and you’re there—come, Lord Jesus!)
In other words, you will have a spiritual, physical, powerful, glorified, and incorruptible body. But some of you are not convinced there will be a Rapture–so turn next to . . .
Our third passage, 1 Thessalonians 4:13 to 18. The Thessalonians were a great group–chapter 1:10 indicates they were looking for the Rapture, rightly anticipating. Every day they’d get up and say, “Maybe today, Lord.” And Paul praises them for this. But the Thessalonians also had a great concern. They were expecting the return of Christ at any moment. But some of their Christian family and friends had died and the Rapture had not yet occurred. Jesus had not come yet to take them home. And these loving people were concerned those who died might lose out on the benefits of the Rapture.
So Paul comforts them with these words in chapter 4:13a, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep.” Asleep is not soul sleep, but a word Paul always used when a Christian dies. To be absent from the body is to be home with the Lord, but the body will sleep until the Rapture. Verse 13b, “so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.” You are not like non-Christians, who have no hope in death, but you have great hope in Christ.
What do you mean Paul? Verse 14, “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” Paul states a plain fact. The resurrection of Christ guarantees your future resurrection. Christians who have died will be reunited with a glorified body, and then will be with the Lord forever. Verse 15, “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.”
The Thessalonians are all worried that those who’ve died will miss the Rapture. But Paul says, “No, wrong–they will go first, before any of us who remain alive at the time of the Rapture. “The dead in Christ will rise first.” Verse 16a, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout”–I like this, can you picture it? You and I are not waiting for an event, we’re waiting for a person. Are you ready to face Him?
Verse 16b, “with the voice of the archangel”–Jesus will call, and we will know His voice. And the Commander in Chief of angels, Michael the Archangel, the Angel General, the ultimate Rambo, John Wayne, seal team 6 angel will shout as well–an angelic battle cry, beautiful and awful. Why? The Rapture begins the final war with the forces of evil, with the holy angels completely wiping out demonic forces.
Added to the shouts is the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. The trumpet is used to summon people to war and worship. Here believers are called home in glorified bodies to worship their King. Paul identifies those in Christ, meaning Christians, Church-age saints–not Old Testament saints. They are resurrected after the Tribulation. The Rapture is for the Bride of Christ. Verse 17, “Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”
Paul teaches the Thessalonians to not be sad. Those dead believers you’re worrying about will not be left out. In fact, they go first. Then, just as I previously taught you, we who are still alive will be snatched, seized, caught up together–not on the earth, but in the clouds, meeting the Lord. Not on the Mount of Olives, but in the air–and therefore we will always be with Him. Paul concludes with two exhortations.
1st Verse 18, “comfort one another with these words”
2nd Chapter 5 verses 1 to 2—remember, you and I don’t know when the Rapture will occur. But verse 2, it’ll be “like a thief in the night,” who comes unexpectedly, so always be ready. Verse 6, don’t sleep, stay awake. Verse 8, “be sober”–don’t get dull. Verse 9, be comforted—”God has not destined us for wrath” (the Tribulation). Yes, there is a Rapture, then why the confusion?
One of the big reasons is, we don’t understand the culture of the first century and the unique wedding custom of a typical Jew. Once you see it, the Rapture becomes clear. Betrothal and engagement happened when a Jewish groom left the home of his father and visited the father of his desired bride. He would ask for her hand and if agreed, the father would state his price for her dowry. Once the price was paid for her, they were in the covenant of marriage.
For a year, the young man would prepare his home and accommodations for his wife-to-be. Then, on an unannounced night, the groom, his best man and male escort would gather at the father’s house and begin a procession to the bride’s house, who would quickly prepare herself. Others would join the procession and all would shout, “Behold, the bridegroom cometh!” The procession would not enter her home, but she, with her bridesmaids, would meet her groom and the others in the streets–like a Rapture.
Then they would return to the groom’s house, where a party would begin with family and friends. The groom and bride would consummate their marriage (and weird for us, the groom would come out to the party and announce that the marriage was consummated–like the marriage supper of the Lamb). The husband and wife would remain in seclusion for a week (like the Tribulation). They called these days the days of hiding or the days of the bridal chamber. Then on the seventh day, the groom and the bride would leave the bridal chamber, then join the feast with her veil removed for everyone to see–like the Second Coming. I am certain you see the parallels–one of them being . . .
#2 The Rapture is FIRST
The Rapture is the beginning event for the Day of the Lord–the end times. Eschatologically, the Rapture is next for Christians. I believe the Rapture is first, meaning I believe in a Pre-tribulation Rapture—Pre-trib, before the 7-year Tribulation. Some believe Mid-trib, 3½ years into the 7-year Tribulation, some believe Pre-wrath, close to the end of the Tribulation, and others are Post-trib, at the end of the Tribulation.
Why should we believe the Rapture is first, occurring before the Tribulation? Let me give you a few reasons why the Rapture is the next event in prophetic history, an event that could happen any nansecond.
First The Rapture is uniquely DIFFERENT than the Second Coming of Christ
•The Rapture is a mystery, the Second Coming is revealed in the Old Testament
•The Rapture can occur any second, but many events (the Tribulation) must occur before the Second Coming
•At the Rapture the Church goes to Heaven, but at the Second Coming the Church comes back to Earth
•The Rapture is a time of comfort for believers, the Second Coming is a time of terror for the unbeliever
•At the Rapture we meet Christ in the air, at the Second Coming Christ will come back to Earth
•The Rapture is private, only believers will see Christ—at the Second Coming, every eye will see Him
•At the Rapture believers go out of this world, and at the Second Coming unbelievers are taken off the earth
•At the Rapture evil begins to increase, with the Second Coming evil is suppressed
•At the Rapture comes the removal of the restrainer, with the Second Coming is the removal of Satan
•At the Rapture comes the Judgment Seat of Christ, and the Second Coming is the judgment of the Sheep and Goats
So the Rapture and the Second Coming are distinct. The Rapture and the Second Coming are different.
Second The Purpose of the Tribulation is PUNISHMENT
Isaiah 24 and Jeremiah 30 state the Tribulation is designed to punish the Gentile nations, and the Tribulation is designed to bring Israel into a frame of mind for submitting to Christ as her Messiah, according to Daniel 12 and Revelation 6 to 18. But believers in the Church have already been punished–all the punishment for your sins fell on Christ for His Bride. Scripture teaches in Revelation 3:10 that Christ will keep the Church, “keep you” (out of) from the punishment of the Tribulation. Is the Rapture before the Tribulation? Yes–why?
Third The Church is never told to PREPARE for the Tribulation
In fact, it’s just the opposite–1 Thessalonians 5:9 informs us that Jesus will keep us out of the wrath to come. It’s an argument from silence, but added to the fact that the Church is never mentioned in the Tribulation narrative in the Book of Revelation, it points strongly that we are not present. In chapters 2 and 3, the Church is mentioned about thirty times, and in chapters 4 to 9 (except for being in Heaven) the Church is not mentioned once.
Fourth The Rapture is IMMINENT in New Testament Teaching
There are no events that have to happen for the Rapture to occur. The Rapture is at hand, eagerly awaited, and a hope for Christians. The Rapture must happen before the detailed Tribulation.
Fifth A Pre-trib Rapture is the best explanation for the Restrainer
Second Thessalonians 2:6 to 8 says, “And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. 7For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. 8Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming.”
There are lots of views about the restrainer–the two best are 1) the Holy Spirit, and 2) God’s people, the Church. But since the Spirit is highly active during the Tribulation, saving multitudes of lost people–the restrainer which is taken out of the way is best viewed as the Church, the Spirit working through God’s people who restrain evil in society. You and I are salt and light to this lost world, but once taken out of the way, evil will run rampant.
Sixth Scripture declares only believers enter the MILLENNIUM
Only regular earthly believers like you and me, as well as glorified saints start the 1,000-year Kingdom. All unbelievers who survive the Tribulation are sent to Hades in the sheep/goat judgment. If the Rapture were at the end of the Tribulation, the Post-trib view, even a little of the Pre-wrath view, then there would be no regular earthly Christians to begin the Millennium and only glorified saints.
The Kingdom begins with all believers and glorified saints who rule the world under the rule of Christ. After a thousand years, at the end of the Kingdom, some of the offspring of the regular, earthly Christians will rebel against Christ. But if there are no regular Christians who begin the Kingdom, then they can’t have offspring and this rebellion can’t happen. Therefore, the Rapture must be before the end of the Tribulation.
It seems clear–the Rapture is what happens first in God’s eschatological plan. I am clearly a Pre-trib believer. But if I find myself in the Tribulation and the antichrist is setting himself up as God, which happens at the midpoint of the Tribulation, then I am hoping for Mid-trib or Pre-wrath. But next week you will discover why I would prefer to not to go through the Tribulation. But why the big deal? What difference does this make? What’s so important about the Rapture?
#3 The Rapture is FINAL
A Once the Rapture occurs, God’s Commission to the Church is over
Your window to impact this planet for Jesus Christ is finished once the Rapture occurs. What Christ has called us to during this age is to make disciples–to be discipled and to make disciples (Matthew 28:19 to 20). To pursue intentional relationships for the purpose of growth. Do not lull yourself into thinking you are in God’s will, when nothing in your life reflects His will for this planet. And His will for you is to be and do what Jesus did. Being like Christ, which is glorify God (1 Peter 2:9) and doing what Christ did, which is making disciples. Are you in the process?
B If the Rapture can happen any nanosecond, then don’t live as though it will never happen
•Are your purchases guided by the temporary nature of this world?
•Does your giving reflect joy and potential sudden removal?
•How about how you spend your time—are you involved in faithful service to Christ?
•Do you consider who you spend your time with?
Those who are lost need to hear the Gospel from you
Those friends who are an asset to the spiritual life and not a detriment–the Rapture may motivate you to adjust your crew
•Drinking up undistracted devotion to Christ as a single, while you prepare now to be a godly husband or wife
•And since there is no marriage in heaven, you young men may want to ask someone out sooner rather than later–it’s now or never, boys!
C The main purpose of the knowledge of the future is GODLINESS
Our Lord tells us about the sudden, unexpected future so we will live godly, holy lives now (2 Peter 3:14) “Beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless.” And 1 John 3:3, “And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” If you are born again, you will want to live holy and pure.
If you know Christ will snatch you at any moment, you will want to be ready. If one second you’re here, then the next second you’re face-to-face with Christ, you will not want to be doing anything unholy, impure, or sinful. What current habit, what current behavior, or what sinful struggle must be dealt with so you are not embarrassed at the Rapture.
D Be COMFORTED by the truth of the Rapture
Jesus reminded believers in John 14, “Do not let your heart be troubled.” Paul compassionately encouraged Christians in 1 Thessalonians 4, “comfort one another with these words.” You will see your believing family and friends again–and they will be more alive than they have ever been. They’ve not departed, they have arrived–2 Corinthians 5:8, “We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”
E Don’t be FOOLISH in your thinking about the Rapture
I have heard unbelievers affirm the truth of the Rapture, but then conclude, “Well, if I get left behind, I will just turn to Christ at that time. I will repent of my sin then and follow Christ as master. I will become a Christian in the Tribulation.” If you’re tempted to think like that, be warned by God in 2 Thessalonians 2:11 to 12. If you think after hearing the truth now you’ll have a second chance later, think again.
After describing those who did not receive the truth of the Gospel in verse 10, Paul shares in 2 Thessalonians 2:11 and 12, “For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.” Those who reject the truth will be deluded by God, and as a result will believe the lies of Satan through the antichrist.
Why? As a just punishment for choosing to follow wickedness and sin, rather than Christ. God is in charge and He is accomplishing His will on Earth. And the only way to be right with Him now, raptured by Him soon, and ready for Heaven with Him forever is to turn from your sin in repentance and depend on Him by faith. Ask the Lord to open your heart so you can turn to Christ today. Life with Christ is an endless hope. Life without Christ is a hopeless end. Let’s pray.