Topic: The Rapture
TEXT: 1 Corinthians 15:51-55; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
The rapture of the saints, which is heralded by Christ’s appearance in the air at the trump of God, is the first phase of the Lord’s Second coming. Though the rapture is also generally referred to as the Second Coming of Christ, it is actually an initial phase, since He merely appears in the air and raptures the saints who are ready.
The rapture is the greatest event of all ages that the Church is waiting for. It is the catching away of all true believers in Christ to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Christ, at the end of His first advent, was taken up in the air to go and prepare a place for His own. His parting promise to His disciples was that He would return in like manner to receive His ‘Bride’ to be with Him forever (Acts 1:9-11; John 14:1-3).
At rapture, Christ will appear in the air. He will not be visible to the inhabitants of the earth. His mission then will be to resurrect all dead saints, who, along with the living believers, will put on immortality and shall be caught up to be with the Lord. This event will take place in the twinkling of an ‘eye’ before the great and terrible day of the Lord when the wrath of God will be poured down from His cup of indignation without mixture – an event fitly called the Great Tribulation (1 Corinthians 15:52).
The time of the rapture is unknown, even by the angels (Matthew 24:36; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5). It will be heralded by the voice of the archangel and the blowing of trumpet signalling the end of the Church age (1 Thessalonians 4:13-15).
1. THE CERTAINTY OF THE RAPTURE
1 Thessalonians 4:15-18; John 14:1-3; Acts 1:10,11; Daniel 7:13,14
Jesus himself assured His disciples of His coming. He comforted His troubled and sorrowful disciples with the message of His personal return to take them to the Father’s abode. “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).
God had underlined this great event in two different ways in the Scripture to assure us of its certainty. First, it was illustrated in Enoch and Elijah, the two living saints who did not taste death but were translated in a moment of time and caught up in the air (Genesis 5:24; 2 Kings 2:11,12).
Second, it was illustrated in Christ in the New Testament. He died, was buried and resurrected. While He talked with His disciples on Mount Olivet, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight (Acts 1:9-11).
The rapture which was a mystery to the Old Testament prophets marks the end of the Church Age, also referred to as the time of the Gentiles (Luke 21:24). This truth was veiled to the saints of old. However, known unto God are all His works from the foundation of the earth. In His mercy, He interrupted His programme for Israel with the interpolation of Church Age. Christ the Messiah came for His people but they rejected Him (John 1:11), and God turned to the Gentiles to take a people for Himself. The rapture will mark the end of this special period of grace. Does this mean that God has forsaken His people Israel forever? Far from it. He will resume His programme with Israel immediately after the rapture, thus ushering in the beginning of the Seventieth week in Daniel’s prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27).
The rapture is the present expectation of the saints. It is the next event in the programme of God for the Church. Any moment from now, the trumpet shall sound and He that shall come will come and will not tarry. It is very certain that Christ is coming back again. He assured the Church of the certainty of His coming (John 14:1-3). Angels proclaimed it; apostles and saints throughout the ages preached it. All the signs of His coming are daily being fulfilled.
2. SIGNS HERALDING THE RAPTURE OF SAINTS
Matthew 24:3-14; Luke 21:24-36; 2 Timothy 3:1-5,7
While we do not know and cannot tell the exact time of the rapture of the saints, we certainly do know the season for the Lord’s coming will be heralded with signs. Since Christ knows more about His coming than anyone else, we draw considerable knowledge from His words relating to the signs of His coming in the period that precedes the rapture and the Great Tribulation in what is generally referred to as the last days or latter times.
Our Lord did not leave us in the dark concerning His coming. “Long prophetic discourses of Christ are recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke and the new details added by each indicate that the original discourses was longer than any of the accounts we have in the gospel”, writes a Christian author.
Christ, answering a pertinent question asked by His disciples on “…What shall be the sign of thy coming…” (Matthew 24:3), gave in detail what would be happening on earth shortly before His coming (Matthew 24:5-12,30-39). He highlighted the following as what to expect: (i) many false christs will arise to deceive many unsuspecting believers; (ii) there will be wars and rumours of war; (iii) there will be international wars; (iv) there will be famines (global economic recession); (v) pestilences; (vi) earthquakes in divers places; (vii) there will be persecution of Christ’s followers and some cases of martyrdom; (viii) the emergence of many false prophets; (ix) backsliding from the faith will be on the increase; and (x) more people will be given to pleasure and merrymaking than those seeking the Lord.
(ii) there will be wars and rumours of war; (iii) there will be international wars; (iv) there will be famines (global economic recession); (v) pestilences; (vi) earthquakes in divers places; (vii) there will be persecution of Christ’s followers and some cases of martyrdom; (viii) the emergence of many false prophets; (ix) backsliding from the faith will be on the increase; and (x) more people will be given to pleasure and merrymaking than those seeking the Lord.
The Scripture also predicts the conditions, characterised by a system of denials, which will be prevalent within the visible Church, shortly before Christ’s return. There will be a denial of God (2 Timothy 3:1-5), a denial of Christ (1 John 2:18; 4:3), a denial of Christ’s return (2 Peter 3:3,4), a denial of the faith of Christian living (Jude 18) and a denial of authority. All these signs are being fulfilled before our very eyes.
3. THE SUDDENNESS OF THE RAPTURE
Matthew 24:27,36; Luke 12:40; 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3
The Spirit’s choice of words on the subject of the rapture shows us the uncertainty of the time of His coming. “For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night”, says the Holy Ghost through Paul. His coming is likened to the attack of a thief in the night. Thus, as thieves usually come in the dead of the night when they are least expected, such will be the coming of the Lord.
To assure the Church of the imminence, suddenness and unpredictability of the time of the Lord’s coming, Paul gives an analogy of a woman in travail. “For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:3). A pregnant woman knows she must travail to give birth but knows not the day or the hour it will happen; so it is with the time of the coming of the Lord. We know the times and seasons of His coming but the very moment, the day, or the hour is known only to God.
4. READINESS FOR THE RAPTURE
1 Thessalonians 5:4-8; Matthew 24:44; Mark 13:35; Luke 19:13; 1 John 3:3; 1 Timothy 6:14
Nothing should be of greater importance to the true believer than the knowledge of the kind of character, life and conduct that will make and keep him ready for the rapture. In almost all the areas in the Bible where the rapture is mentioned, there are accompanying warnings and instructions that border on readiness and necessary preparation. Actually, there is the ever-present need of watchfulness. Failure to be vigilant and consecrated to Christ is dangerous.
Great stress and emphasis has always been laid on watchfulness as part of the saints’ preparation for the rapture. As saints prepare for the coming of the Lord, they must be sober and watchful. Watchfulness and sobriety are most suitable to Christian character and privilege, as being “children of the day” because “they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:5,7).
The apostles repeated the commandment of our Lord on the subject of watchfulness. Peter admonished Christians: “be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer” (1 Peter 4:7). John wrote: “Blessed is he that watcheth” (Revelation 16:15) and Paul exhorted: “watch ye, stand fast in the faith, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). The duty of watching is of paramount obligation; for the night is far spent, the day is at hand. A true believer must not slumber or please himself with the shadowy dreams of earthly glories; for he must keep vigil, watching always. The warning to watch is for all men and for all times: “What I say unto you I say unto all, Watch” (Mark 13:37).
Toiling or labouring is also part of the saints’ preparation for the coming of Christ. His command is: “Occupy till I come”. Working and watching go together; for we are to comport ourselves like the Jews of Nehemiah’s day who built the walls of Jerusalem whilst they were armed and on their guard against the foes. Our Master has left us in the midst of dangers, not to depress our courage but to quicken our vigilance. We must work and watch so that at the Lord’s return, He will find us faithful.
We must also be sober. Christian sobriety is neither sadness nor gloom. As believers, we are expected to be serious and happy, sober and cheerful. Peter wrote: “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer” (1 Peter 4:7). The purpose of our preparation is so that we will be found fit when He comes for His saints (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17).
There is a lifestyle peculiar to the saints who will be caught up at the coming of Christ. Those who are waiting for Him are the surrendered, serving and sincere saints. The Lord will not catch away fake Christians or loud, halfhearted, cold, filthy and fearful churchgoers. Only true saints will be caught away. Remember that the Lord is coming soon. “And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).
Backsliders will not be able to go at the rapture, though saved before and baptized in water. Careless and compromising preachers will miss the rapture; it does not matter what Christian work they might have done in the past. All sinners in and outside the church will be left behind to face the Great Tribulation.
Knowing that these things shall be, that the rapture will occur unannounced, and it is very imminent, what manner of persons ought believers to be? Sinners are to make haste to repent and embrace Christ as their Saviour. The saints of God are to watch and pray lest that day come upon them unprepared (Matthew 24:42-44).