SERMON: The Hope of the Rapture | Jn 14:1–3; 1 The 4:13–18 | Addendum to the Olivet Discourse

The Hope of the Rapture | Jn 14:1–3; 1 The 4:13–18
Shaun Marksbury | Grace Bible Church
Sunday Morning Service | January 13, 2018

There is one sure word of comfort for all Christians, and that is Jesus Christ is coming soon for His own.  We should not only anticipate His imminent return, but draw hope from it in times of sorrow.  As an addendum to our study in Mark 13, today we examine the biblical doctrine of the rapture.

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Last time, we mentioned that some Christians overemphasize the end-times.  Some become obsessed with the question of when these things will take place.  Some, filled with zeal, will devote their free time to trouncing anyone online or in church that holds to a contrary view than them.  Some are even so bold as to predict the precise timing of these events—something we saw that our Lord doesn’t allow.

However, it would be wrong to think that a curiosity about the end-times is wrong.  As we saw in the Olivet Discourse in Mark 13, Jesus answers rather than avoids His disciples’ eschatological questions.  Indeed, as His discourse likely takes place just a couple of days before His crucifixion, their knowing about His victory in the end would prove to be a comfort in the coming days.

With that in mind, we are fast-forwarding to His discussion that next night, seeing some different yet related words of comfort.  This discussion is the Upper Room Discourse, Jesus’s final time of teaching before heading toward the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane.  Unfortunately, except for the Last Supper, Mark doesn’t record the Upper Room Discourse, so we are going to a couple of different books of the Bible today to track this theme.

We are starting in the Gospel of John.  Because it’s written a few decades after the other three, fills in this information for us.  Jesus knows the troubled states the disciples will endure for the next several days.  As such, He gives this word of comfort.  Specifically, He promises them His presence in God’s house, that if He goes, He will return to receive believers unto Himself. 

Paul picks up these words of comfort to give the Thessalonian church a similar message.  It’s interesting that He ever got the chance to talk to them about the issue.  Remember that he planted the church in Thessalonica quickly and under persecution.  According to Acts 17:5, “But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and attacking the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people.”  Paul and Silas had to escape by night (v. 10), meaning that they were only with the Thessalonian believers for a few weeks (v. 2).

What could they learn from Paul in such a short time?  Well, Acts says he “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ’ ” (vv. 2–3).  So, we would say that they learned the essentials of the faith—that one must understand his own sin and need for salvation in Christ. 

It seems this would include Christ’s promise of return for believers.  For example, in chapter 1 of 1 Thessalonians, Paul says they “turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come” (1 The 1:9–10).  He talks again about the presence and return of our Lord in 2:19, and again in 3:13.  Skipping chapter four for the moment, you’ll notice in 5:2, Paul speaks about the Day of the Lord, warning them to be on the alert; he also prays that “the God of peace Himself” will sanctify them entirely, preserving them “without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 23).  The return of Christ must not have been foreign concept to them, integral to the concept of Christ’s justification and sanctification of the believer.

As such, they were expecting His return, but they were also grieving.  Some of them were dying, and that led to the question of what would happen to their loved ones.  So, in 4:13–18, Paul writes, 

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.  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.  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  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.  Therefore comfort one another with these words.

Notice the similarities between Christ’s words to His disciples in John 14 and His apostle’s words to the Thessalonian believers.  Paul even uses some of the same terms; both talk about belief in the midst of trouble or sorrow, both talk about Him coming again and receiving believers unto Himself, and both refer to eternal presence with Him.  Indeed, both these passages are meant to be words of comfort.

These passages refer to an event known as the rapture, and we should likewise draw comfort from this teaching.  We believe it is the next event on the prophetic calendar.  More to the point, it is the event you should be anticipating.  When you are going through your own troubles and sorrows, it’s an expectation that will bring you hope.  Let’s consider what it is and then when we should expect it. 

I.               Understanding the Concept of the Rapture

A.              Definition—What is it?

Someone may have told you that the word “rapture” isn’t in the Bible.  While it’s true that your concordances in your English Bibles won’t show any instance of “rapture,” that doesn’t mean it’s not in the Bible.  When the Bible was translated from Greek into Latin for Roman readers, the Vulgate used the noun raptura and verb rapio for this biblical concept—from which we obviously transliterate rapture.

The Greek verb is harpazō, and we find it fourteen times in the New Testament (not always in reference to the eschatological event).  It simply means “to snatch away,” like someone might take, steal, or plunder in a criminal or predatory endeavor (Mt 11:12; 12:29; 13:19; Jn 6:15; Jn 10:12).  Christ promises believers that no one can “rapture” or snatch them from His or His Father’s hand (Jn 10:28, 29).  There are a few more, such as Paul’s arrest and forced removal by the Romans (Acts 23:10).

Consider the interesting usage of the word in Acts.  An angel tells Philip to head south on a desert road (Acts 8:26).  He does, and he encounters the Ethiopian eunuch reading Isaiah (v. 27–28).  The Holy Spirit tells Philip to speak with him (v. 29), where a gospel conversation ensues (vv. 30–35).  The eunuch then requests baptism (v. 36), which Philip allows and performs (v. 38). 

Concerning our discussion, the interesting part happens next.  The Holy Spirit “snatched Philip away” or raptured him (v. 39).  This must have happened suddenly, because we read, “the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.”  The next verse reads, “But Philip found himself at Azotus;” the Holy Spirit set him down some twenty miles north of the road he traveled (v. 40). 

This kind of rapture calls to mind what happened in the lives of Ezekiel (Eze 3:12, 14; 8:3) and Elijah (1 Kgs 18:12; 2 Kgs 2:16)—the Spirit of God picking up and moving people as He will.  Of course, the account of Elijah being received into heaven brings us to the typological event people refer to when they speak of the rapture, and a similar experience occurred with Enoch (Gn 5:24; Hb 11:5).  In the New Testament, Paul experiences a form of rapture (either in the body or out, he does not know), and he humbly reports about it (2 Cor. 12:2–4).  God has snatched up His believers into heaven before by some supernatural means, and He can do so again.

This is the understanding behind the term harpazo (Greek) or rapturo (Latin) in 1 Thessalonians 4:17.  The trumpet of God resounds, the dead in Christ rise, and 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.”  The concept of the believers’ being “caught up” involves some change of the natural state through God’s supernatural means.

Another passage that speaks about this event without using the term is in that great chapter on the resurrection.  In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul writes, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.”  Some supernatural event will raise the dead and transform the living, preparing them for life with the Lord.

We’re going to talk about the disagreement among believers in just a moment.  However, I want to note the nearly universal agreement on the existence of rapture teaching in Scripture.  In other words, all Christians believe (or should believe) that a rapture of believers will happen at some point.  That is because inspired Scripture clearly points to this grand event.

B.              Disagreements

With that said, there are certain disagreements that Christians have.  These disagreements do not include whether we should look forward to the rapturing of believers but rather over its details.  What percentage of believers will be taken in the rapture?  When will the rapture take place?  We’re going to simply state the different views rather than argue against them.

1.               Totality—Will there be a full or partial rapture?

It may surprise you to discover that Christians wonder if we will all be raptured when the time comes.  If you recall Mark 13, however, Jesus gave a number of commands to be on guard, take heed, and be alert.  Jesus demonstrates His command for watchfulness in the parallel (Mt 25:1–13).  In a similar eschatological passage, Paul likewise commands watchfulness (1 The 5:4-8).  If Christ is offered to “those who eagerly await Him” (Hb 9:28), then perhaps it follows that one’s personal question rapture is qualified by that person’s preparedness. 

However, this leads us to troubling issues.  Not the least of these is the fact that making “watchfulness” a condition of the rapture indicates that it is also a condition of keeping one’s salvation, which is clearly by grace apart from works (Eph 2:8–9).  The greatest problem with this view is that no text actually says the rapture would be conditional, and 1 Corinthians 15:51 actually says that “we will all be changed.”  (I said we would not argue against these views, so let’s keep moving!)

2.               Timing—Will it be before, during, or after the Tribulation?

The other disagreement is when the rapture will take place.  Some argue for a post-tribulation rapture.  This can mean that the rapture occurs shortly before the return of Christ.  It can also mean that the rapture and the return of Christ are the same event.  (Those who disagree with us that there will even be a special Tribulation periods also believe that Christ’s return and the rapture are the same event.) 

Others will argue for a mid-tribulation rapture of the church.  Sometimes this is referred to the “pre-wrath” view; since the wrath of God is especially present in the second half of the Tribulation, believers will be raptured before this point.

The final view is that the rapture is pre-tribulational in nature.  That is, the rapture will occur at some point before the start of the seven-year tribulation period.  This would explain why we did not encounter discussion on the rapture in the Olivet Discourse: in it, Jesus explains the Tribulation period, so the rapture would have already occurred.  That is the view we hold to here, and we’ll spend our last few minutes understanding that.

II.            Understanding Why the Rapture is Pretribulational

There are perhaps a myriad of reasons to believe in this view.  For instance, the early church certainly expected the imminent return of Christ.  Even so, here are three reasons it seems to be the case.

A.              The Book of Revelation Excludes the Church During this Same Period

There is no doubt the Book of Revelation has much to say to the church at present.  The descriptions of Christ in the first chapter drive us to worship.  His admonitions to the churches in chapters two and three call us to repent.  Obviously, we find instruction in the rest; however, after the third chapter, we must wait until the end before the church is mentioned again (22:16).

Revelation 4–19 describe the Tribulation period we’ve been studying.  By way of review, it is that Seventieth Week of the Book of Daniel declared on Daniel’s people and his holy city (Dn 9:24, cf. vv. 25–27).  The Tribulation will be a time for Jacob’s people (Jer 30:7).  If the church is missing from the chapters, it would explain why God elects and mobilizes 144,000 Jewish people for evangelism (Rev 7; 14).  When it seems that there’s a mention of the church later in the book, it’s a mention of the “saints and apostles and prophets,” and they’re in heaven (Rv 18:20).

B.              There Must Be Believers Who Survive the Tribulation Who are Not Raptured

We read Jesus say God cut the days short for the elect.  Those who survive must stand before Christ for the judgment of the sheep and goats.  After that judgement, unbelievers will be removed and Christ will inaugurate His kingdom. 

Those who populate the kingdom will have children, which seems contrary of the immortal, glorified state.  Indeed, it seems that these children will have the capacity to sin (see Isa 65:20; Rv 20:7-10), though Satan is bound, restraining the reach of sin.  A post-tribulation rapture, for instance, would leave no room for any of this.

C.              Nothing Precedes the Rapture

The greatest difficulty with a rapture view other than a pre-tribulation one is that it would carry prerequisites to the Lord’s return in the air.  All the passages that speak of the rapture indicate its imminence, but a mid-trib and post-trib view must contend with the requirement of the onset of the Tribulation (or a complete denial that this seven-year period will exist).  

Consider the differences between the passages on the rapture and the ones on the Lord’s return.  The Olivet Discourse revealed unparalleled tribulation, including deception, upheaval, persecution, and disasters natural and supernatural.   Nothing indicates such warnings in John 14, 1 Thessalonians 4, or even 1 Corinthians 15. 

Dr. Richard Mayhue wrote an article in The Master’s Seminary Journal[1] on this topic.  He lists several significant differences between the rapture and the events surrounding the Second Coming of Christ:

1.        At the rapture, Christ comes in the air and returns to heaven (1 Thess 4:17), but at the final event of the second coming, Christ comes to the earth to dwell and reign (Matt 25:31-32).
2.        At the rapture, Christ gathers His own (1 Thess 4:16-17), but at the final event of the second coming, angels gather the elect (Matt 24:31).
3.        At the rapture, Christ comes to reward (1 Thess 4:17), but at the final event of the second coming, Christ comes to judge (Matt 25:31-46).
4.        At the rapture, resurrection is prominent (1 Thess 4:15-16), but at the final event of the second coming, resurrection is not mentioned.
5.        At the rapture, believers depart the earth (1 Thess 4:15-17), but at the final event of the second coming, unbelievers are taken away from the earth (Matt 24:37-41).
6.        At the rapture, unbelievers remain on earth, but at the final event of the second coming, believers remain on earth (Matt 25:34).
7.        At the rapture, there is no mention of establishing Christ’s Kingdom on earth, but at the final event of the second coming, Christ has come to set up His Kingdom on earth (Matt 25:31, 34).
8.        At the rapture, believers will receive glorified bodies (cf. 1 Cor 15:51-57), but at the final event of the second coming, no one will receive glorified bodies.

The Thessalonian believers were not expecting the Tribulation.  Remember that Paul praised them for waiting for Christ “who rescues us from the wrath to come” (1 The 1:9–10).  If Paul had told them that the rapture was mid-tribulation or post-trib, they would have understood why the rapture hadn’t occurred yet.

There are three parables that speak of the coming judgment of unbelievers when Christ returns.  Those are the parables of the wheat and tares (Mt 13:24–43), of the dragnet (Mt 13:47–50), and of the division of the sheep and goats (Mt 25:31–46).  Each of these instances refer to unbelievers being removed from believers rather than vice versa.  This judgment occurs at the end of the Tribulation, and the only people being raptured there will be the reprobate unto perdition.  That doesn’t seem to be what the Thessalonian believers were anticipating.

III.         Conclusion

The rapture of the church will take place before any of the events we’ve read about in our short series on the Olivet Discourse.  It’s the event first century Christians were awaiting before anything else.  It is the event we should be awaiting, as well.

Of course, no text tells us when the rapture will occur.  That is the very nature of the event.  It can happen at any moment, and it is the event for what we should be readying ourselves.

Still, we prepare with anticipation.  We know that the pain of this fleeting life will one day come to an end.  We also know that those who have died before us will not miss out on the glories of the moment.  We will finally see Christ face-to-face, we will be changed, and we will forever be with the Lord.  May that blessed knowledge of the glories to be revealed provide you with the hope to face these fleeting, light afflictions.


[1] Richard Mayhue, The Master’s Seminary Journal 13/2 (Fall 2002), 241–253.


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