What is the Rapture?


The idea of the rapture is that Jesus is going to come back to earth just before a period of time called the “Great tribulation, and that Jesus will snatch the church away up into the sky with him.

We’re going to talk today about what the rapture is all about.  And I’ve got to tell you, that it can be confusing.  But it’s a very hot topic – Left behind series was the latest to modernize the story.  They basically took the movie we just looked at and spiced it up a bit.

But before that there was Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth books that sold 35 million copies in the 70’s.

You can imagine, that one of the temptations of studying the end times too much is the temptation to ‘discover’ the exact date when Jesus is going to return.

One of the first groups to try to figure out the exact date of the rapture were the Millerites.  In 1844, thousands of Millerites left there crops unharvested, shut down their businesses, sold all they had and gave everything away, and sat in churches or on top of hilltops, some wearing white robes…  because they thought they had figured out the exact date of the return of Jesus.

In 1988 this pamphlet came out, 88 reasons why Jesus will return in 1988.  At the time I was a freshman in college and I remember, part of me saying, don’t come back now Lord, I have so much yet to experience.  I’m not married I have no kids.

Of course, now that I have kids, I’m like, Lord, come back.  I’m ready!

It’s easy to find people who will go out on a limb and tell you the exact date of Jesus’ return.

I came across a website, where for $50 I can buy a DVD explaining why this teacher knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is coming back, and that the rapture is going to happen on Dec 21 of 2012.  I call this cashing in on the Mayan Calendar thing.

There have been times in my own life when I thought the rapture was occurring.  One time I spent the night at a house, I had never slept over this friends house before.  In the middle of the night I woke up and the house was literally shaking and there was a green light in the room.  And I remember thinking… This is it…  here we go!  And them I heard WOOOOOOWOOOO – there were train tracks that ran alongside his house, and the green tint was the light from the clock radio.

Another time was more recent, and much more realistic – it was in the form of a dream – and in my dream, I saw the sky unzip and angels pour through it – and I woke up – and some of you are going to accuse me of exaggerating this story but Jody will confirm the story that I woke myself up hollering “I’m flying!  I’m Flying!”

It was a cool dream, and I think it very well might be that way sometime.

Whenever we talk about the book of revelation, we simply have to talk about this thing called the Rapture.

So let’s take a look at events surrounding this unique and interesting aspect of Christian Theology.

Let’s start by looking at our timeline again.  Here we have two events – the cross.  And the return of Jesus.  In the same way you saw him go up – you’ll see him return.

Now as many things we Christians disagree about, this is one thing no bible believing Christian will have a difference of opinion about.

The one thing every Christian agrees about is that Jesus is someday coming back to this earth.  This ‘down’ arrow represents that.  I propose that when we read about the seventh trumpet, and the seventh bowl and the seventh seal – they all refer to this moment right here when Jesus comes back.

Next week we’ll take a closer look at the events surrounding this wonderful day.  Today we’re going to talk about what happens before this.

Immediately before the return of Jesus, we have what is called a period of time referred to as “The Great Tribulation”.

Tribulation is a promise of every Christian of every age.  Jesus promised us all times of tribulation, because the world will hate Christians because the world hates Christ.  John 16:33 has Jesus telling his followers, “In this world you will have many troubles.  But take heart, I have overcome the world.”

So starting with the Apostles and working itself to us this day, Christians have been killed for their faith.

Why, I will never know from a human side of things.  Followers of Christ love people, including their enemies.  Christ tells us to be compassionate and kind, loving and patient, to care for the orphan and the widow, to respect authority and live peaceably with neighbors.  The Bible tells us to love our spouses and treat children with kindness.  To work hard and give away money generously to those who are in need.

Let’s kill em!

The only way it happens is because there is a power at work in this world that seeks to destroy anything created in the image of God.

But for two thousand years it has not worked.  And people are still coming to faith in Jesus knowing that there is a real possibility that they are going to die for making that decision.

Tribulation is the lot of Christians for two thousand years.  But that said, the bible seems to indicate an intensification of tribulation in this time period called the Great tribulation.

Jesus refers to it in Matthew 24.  (Which is Jesus version of the book of Revelation)   John refers to here in Revelation.  I believe the opening of the sixth seal is the beginning of the time period of the great tribulation.

So we begin to see the clear judgments of God falling on earth.  Like the plagues of Egypt, we’ll see God making clear that the seasons are about to change.  The season of Grace is coming to an end and a season of righteous judgment is soon to appear.

Within this time period we have a line drawn in the sand.  People will be forced to make a decision as to what side they belong.  There will be, apparently, some identification markings –  those who clearly belong to God, somehow receiving a public mark identifying them as belonging to Him.  And those belonging to the anti-christ clearly receiving some mark identifying them as belonging to that side.

Now, like the plagues of Egypt, I believe all of us will see some of the plagues of the first four trumpets.  When the earth is scorched and the seas and rivers are affected.  When cosmic disturbances caused a plague of darkness.  All of us on either side of the line of faith will experience these things.  However, the fifth trumpet, the plague of demonic locusts, will make a distinction – they are told to only harm those who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.

During this time period, we will see a godless figure rise, what we call the anti-christ.  We read about him in Revelation 13 and in 2 Thessalonians 2.  Seemingly a world ruler who preaches peace but makes war against the followers of Jesus.

This tribulation period is a chaotic final showdown between good and evil.  As Pharaoh had his own magicians try to emulate God, the Anti-christ will have powers that seem to match God’s powers.  All of these events are bringing to clarity which side of the line of faith people belong.  All of these events occur during this Great Tribulation.

Now, how long will this great tribulation be?  Based on Daniel 9 it seems it will last 7 years.

Now we come to this thing we call the rapture.  Again, the rapture is the idea that God will come and take from the earth, all who are believers of Jesus sometime during this great tribulation.  The major rapture passage in the bible is 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17

 15 We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died.  16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. 17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. 18 So encourage each other with these words.

Those words caught up in the air, are the words we get rapture from.  In latin its rapio, or something like that.

If we are alive when Jesus comes back, I think we’re all going to be yelling, I’m flying!  We’ll meet the Lord in the air.

Then what?

Well, here’s the issue.  Some people, and I’ll use this UP arrow to signify this rapture – this being caught up in the air with Jesus – some people see the rapture as happening BEFORE the tribulation period.

Where do we find this in the Bible?  It comes from the idea that Jesus can return at any moment.  The imminent return of Jesus means at any second, he will arrive lie a thief in the night.  Check out these words from Jesus in Matthew 24….

37 “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. 38 In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. 39 People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.

 40 “Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left.

 42 “So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. 

Matthew 24:37-42

The argument is – How can this be true if the rapture doesn’t happen until after the tribulation, they ask.  It seems here that Jesus is saying he can come back at any second.  But if he doesn’t come back until here, then we’re going to have a pretty decent idea of when he will return, won’t we?

So the imminent of Jesus return keeps us on our toes.  He can come anytime and that will usher in the great tribulation.

This view is called, cleverly, the pre-tribulation rapture of the church.  And the main idea is that Jesus will come down and snatch away the church and go back up.  And seven years later he’ll return.  And people who were marginal Christians, who were near that line of faith but hadn’t crossed it, they will still make decisions to follow Jesus and they are the ones fighting the forces of the anti-christ.

Now this view is extremely popular.  But it does have it’s distracters.

The detractors would ask – Israel lived in the land of Egypt during the plagues, why wouldn’t the church?

And since when is God concerned about taking the church out of times of tribulation.  when I mean the Bible’s view is that our faith might get us killed.  And God’s response to that is, “That’s it?”   Don’t sweat the guy who kill the body, rather, think about the one who can destroy both body and soul.

They would also have a hard time imaging that God would remove the church in what could be our finest hour.  To be able to display our faith in God in front of the world that hates us and seeks to destroy us.  Why would God remove us from the earth when we’re needed most?

Will God really leave it up to people to discover the truth of the gospel via the internet? And just about every pre-tribulational internet site will have a section, “What to do if you’re reading this after the rapture.”

I think that if we’re alive when the tribulation comes, we’re going to see a lot of what we read about in the book of Exodus.  God has a way of repeating themes.  And I think we’ll live amongst people, as the Israelites lived amongst the Egyptians as they endured the ten plagues.

There are other views – some say the church is raptured midway through the tribulation.  They are cleverly called Mid-tribulation view of the rapture.

Lastly, Some want to place the rapture as a simultaneous event at the end of the rapture.  That we will be caught up with Him in the air, and then turn right around and land back on our feet, though in new glorious bodies.  This is called the Post-tribulational view of the rapture.

I have a little different take.  I see the rapture as occurring toward the end of the tribulation, but that we will be raptured just before the bowls of God are poured out – I see the bowls of God’s wrath as being purely punitive.  They are judgment against a world that refuses to believe even though they have been given every opportunity during the tribulation.  They have the witness of the church, the announcements of angelic beings.  And yet they stubbornly refuse to yield.

And at that point, and I believe it’s clear in Revelation 16, that things change, and a mighty voice tells the angels to pour out the bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.

Now I know that one common refutation by my brothers and sisters in the pre-tribulaitonal camp, is that if Jesus comes back and raptures the church after the tribulation begins, then how is it like a ‘thief in the night?”

But I don’t think we have to declare that Thessalonians or Mathew 24 makes other views impossible to believe.  After all, in 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul re-asserts Jesus’ teaching about the thief in the night deal when he writes…

1 Now concerning how and when all this will happen, dear brothers and sisters,[a] we don’t really need to write you. 2 For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. 3 When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape.

But he doesn’t stop there.  He keeps writing…

 4 But you aren’t in the dark about these things, dear brothers and sisters, and you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief.  5 For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night. 6 So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded. 9 For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us.

So Paul seems to assert that the day when Jesus comes back, no man can precisely point to the day.  Listen, when we read about how someone is declaring that Jesus is coming back on May 21 of 2011, or December 21, 2012, we can know beyond a shadow that they are wrong.  No one knows the day.

BUT, Paul indicates we can know the season.  We can know when it is soon

Therefore I don’t have a problem with this view, and nor do I have a problem with someone who believes this view or that view.

We Christians sometimes have ways of lopping off people who don’t agree with us on every aspect of theology.  We lop off and off until pretty soon we’re the only person living on our own tiny little island of theology.

We’re not going to fall into that trap here.  The most important issue in this whole talk is this point right here.  Jesus IS coming back someday.  All who call themselves followers of Jesus believe this.  After this – tons of room for disagreements.

Now, as we close this morning’s talk, I think it’s fair to ask a couple of questions.

The first question is, Why is it taking Jesus so long to come back.  It’s been 2000 years since the disciples watched Jesus ascend into heaven by flying up into the clouds.  It’s been two thousand years since the angels promised them, “This same Jesus will someday return from heaven in the same way you saw him leave.  Why the delay?

And the second question I think we can ask is – how should we live today as we wait for the return of Jesus, tomorrow.

I want to look at one portion of scripture that will answer both of these questions.  It’s found in 2 Peter 3.

I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. 4 They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.”   

8 But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. 9 The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. 

The mighty patience and goodness and grace of God has allowed this window of opportunity to exist for us.  And while the window is open, you and I have a mighty responsibility to let people know about it.  By the way we live.  The words we speak.  The examples of transformation and the love of God.

While there is yet time, we have a job to do.  To let people know that God is able to fill the god shaped hole, and the purpose shaped vacuum that exists in our lives.

The good news of Jesus is about a fresh start.  A second chance with God.  And it is our privilege to be ambassadors of the Lord as we carry this good news of reconciliation with us.

Gang, we have more to live for than the next paycheck.  We have more to live for than the next football game.  We have been exended an invitation to be part of the group that brings the good news to every tongue and tribe and nation and language.

The second question is, How are we then supposed to live.  How do we live in light of the fact that Jesus is coming back someday.  Perhaps soon?  For our answer, let’s turn back to the same passage we just read…

10 But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. 14 And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight. 

This kind of passage demands a moment of introspection.  A little inspection of our heart is called for.

Are there areas of our life right now that we’d be ashamed of if He were to choose today to return?  Are we making every effort – we know we’re not going to bat 1000, but are we making every effort, to live peaceful lives that are pure and blameless before God.

Secondly the passage goes on to say…

 17 I am warning you ahead of time, dear friends. Be on guard so that you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. 18 Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Lastly, we continue to grow in grace and knowledge.  This means we make every effort to keep on growing, in our knowledge of Jesus, but growing in grace means we continue the process of being transformed.  Changed.

When was the last time we can say that we’ve grown – the process of transformation is a process that will continue slowly, but surely, as we live our years in Christ.  Are we changing?  Are we more patient than we were a year ago?  More kind?  More generous?

Let me throw a challenge out as we close today.  What can we do from now until the end of 2010, that will help us grow in grace and knowledge.

Is there a short term goal that can be set – relying on the Spirit for the power to make that happen – but a short term goal that will help us grow in our faith before the end of the year?

Maybe I could give a little more than I usually give – I could give to our fund helping missionaries working with orphans.  Or to our assistance fund here helping people in need in our church and community.

Maybe I could go and do a shorter project – help out with a project at Mission for All Nations.

Maybe I could commit to working directly with people, helping others.

Maybe it’s a commitment to read a little more from this bible.  It’s a big book, but maybe commit to reading through the book of Matthew or Luke – if you’re a younger Christian.  Or maybe it’s reading through some of Paul’s letters.

The goal is to start where you are and take that next sep I our faith journey – to become more like Jesus.  To ask the Spirit to fill us and make us think and act like Jesus thinks and acts.

Maybe it’s taking the initiative to start talking to a friend a little bit about your faith.  Our goal would be to at least keep my ears open for times when talking about spirituality would be a normal and appropriate thing to do.

Maybe your goal could be to extend an invitation to check out church with you if you know they don’t go anywhere.

See the red light clock continues to tick.  We don’t know exactly how many seconds or hours or decades we each have left.  But while we wait we push forward in grace and knowledge of God.  While we wait, we work.

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