The Pre-Tribulation Rapture – What does it Mean and how does it Differ from the Second Coming of Christ?

Prof. Johan Malan, School of Social Sciences, University of Limpopo (Feb. 2005)

Promise of the rapture

Biblical teachings about the rapture, the end-time restoration of the nation of Israel and the millennial kingdom have, through various phases of church history, been spiritualised and brushed aside by theologians. Faith in these promises has, however, been revived time and again to become a strong motivating force in the lives of believers.

We are living in a time which sees the fulfilment of many biblical prophecies. This is an indication of the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ. When people accept the prophetic word and study it, they achieve greater clarity regarding future events. They see the unfolding of a world scene which is, on the one hand, very dark indeed and leads to awful judgements, while on the other hand, a joyous hope blazes in the hearts of true believers. This hope comes from the knowledge that they will escape the coming judgements if they are truly born again. The promise of escape is the good news element in the prophecies. It is the blessed hope of Christ’s return to which every believer should cling in these dark days (Tit. 2:13).

Two phases

To correctly understand the Second Coming of Christ, we have to clearly discern its two phases, i.e. the return of Christ for His saints (i.e. all born-again believers) and His coming with His saints. During the first phase the coming of the heavenly Bridegroom will be unexpected, like a thief in the night. He will meet His bride in the air and quickly take her away to heavenly places (John 14:2-3; 1 Thess. 4:16-17). At that event He will appear to all those who eagerly await Him for complete salvation (Heb. 9:28). Thereafter, they will remain with Him forever.

During the second phase, His appearance will be public and every eye will see Him (Rev. 1:7). He will be accompanied by His bride, as well as a heavenly army, and will set foot upon the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4-5; Rev. 19:11-15). That is the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints (Zech. 14:5). Christ and His saints will be revealed to the world in glory at the same time: “When Christ, who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4). It is quite obvious that Christians could not accompany the Lord Jesus and be revealed in their glorified bodies unless they had already been united with Him at an earlier stage. The whole creation is awaiting this revelation, because harmony and ideal conditions will prevail on earth during the reign of Christ and His saints (Rom. 8:19). The many promises of abundance and blessing in every sphere of life will then be fulfilled (Joel 3:18; Mic. 4:3-4; Amos 9:13-15).

The Bridegroom comes to fetch His bride

During His secret coming, which will of necessity precede the visible coming, the heavenly Bridegroom comes only to fetch His bride. On this occasion He will not show Himself to the millions of other people on earth at all.

In biblical times the Jewish bridegroom, after his betrothal, would depart for a lengthy period to prepare an apartment in the house of his father for his bride and himself. Having done so, he would then return to her home secretly at night to be reunited with her and take her with him to his father’s house, where the marriage feast would be held. This is analogous to Jesus preparing a place for us in the Father’s house and returning to take us there as promised: “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 to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3).

Christ’s coming at the rapture will be the fulfilment of that promise, also of the promise which was made to His followers at the time of His ascension: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

After His resurrection, Jesus was seen only by believers. At His ascension He was separated from them, and with the rapture He will be reunited with them. The rest of mankind will be left on earth because, by their own neglect, they will not be among the born-again believers who belong to Jesus and with whom He has a special appointment: “I tell you, in that night there will be two… in one bed: the one will be taken and the other will be left. Two women will be grinding together; the one will be taken and the other left” (Luke 17:34-35).

Glorification

The glorification of Christians will begin at the moment when the trumpet is sounded, the deceased saints raised from the dead in incorruptible bodies, and the living saints transformed in an instant to receive their glorified bodies: “Behold, I tell 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 trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:51-53).

When Christ raises the dead and changes the living at the rapture, both will be instantly clothed with immortal bodies like His own, immediately prior to meeting Him in the air: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21).

Caught up

Immediately after the deceased believers have been raised and they, with the living believers, have been clothed with glorified bodies, Christ will take them all up to heaven to be with Him forever. That is a clear promise of God in His Word: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep 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 by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:14-18).

Note that the above-mentioned meeting will take place in the air and involves only born-again Christians. The Lord Jesus does not set foot on the Mount of Olives and reveal Himself to the world at this stage, but returns immediately with His bride to His Father’s house in heaven.

The word caught up, that is used by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 (harpazo in Greek), clearly means to be raptured or snatched away rapidly. There is, therefore, no truth in the allegation by some critics that the word rapture does not appear in the Bible. The word harpazo can be translated as catch up, rapture, or snatch away swiftly.

The following are a few more examples of Scripture verses in which the term harpazo is used. Please note that the basic meaning of the term harpazo is of being removed swiftly and purposefully from one place to another:

·         “Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more” (Acts 8:39).

·         “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago… such a one was caught up to the third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:2).

·          “And she bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and to His throne” (Rev. 12:5).

The first resurrection

A concept which is closely related to the rapture, is that of the first resurrection. At this event, the Lord Jesus will come to raise only born-again believers; this is why Paul says that “the dead in Christ shall rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16). Nothing whatsoever is said here about the resurrection of the unbelieving, unjust dead. Since a first resurrection also implies a second, and since we know that the just as well as the unjust will be raised (Acts 24:15), it follows that the unjust dead will be raised at a later resurrection.

Revelation 20 says that at least a thousand years will separate the two resurrections. John refers to all the saints who will be raised in the first resurrection to reign as kings with Christ during the Millennium: “…and they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection” (Rev. 20:4-6).

Those who share in the first resurrection are declared blessed; therefore, to be declared part of this resurrection signifies a very privileged status. The following are expressions which refer to the first resurrection only:

·         The first resurrection (Rev. 20:6).

·         The resurrection of the children of God (Luke 20:36).

·         The resurrection of those who died in Christ (1 Thess. 4: 16).

·         The resurrection of the just (Luke 14:13-14).

·         A better resurrection (Heb. 11:35).

·         The resurrection to life (John 5:29).

·         The resurrection from the dead through Jesus (Acts 4:2).

At the rapture, the just will be raised from among the unjust dead and, together with the living just, who will be instantly changed, both groups will rise in glorified bodies to meet Christ in the air. The unjust (unsaved) dead will remain in their graves until the end of the Millennium.

Escape

In the light of the circumstances which will prevail on earth, the rapture will offer Christians an escape from threatening judgements. As the moment of the rapture nears, it will be a dark time of massive spiritual deception. Evangelical Christians will be declared unchristian, unloving and judgmental, and will be despised. They will be regarded as prophets of doom because they proclaim the imminent judgements of God which will fall upon the world during the tribulation. They will also be regarded as disloyal to the Christian cause because of their unwillingness to join the ecumenical movement and accept the unitary reforms of the New Age Movement.

As the time for the revelation of the Antichrist approaches, true Christians will be subjected to immense pressure, intimidation and threats. However, they should take courage in the light of the promise that the truly born-again children of God will escape the coming tribulation period: “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). This promise ties up with the following one: “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth” (Rev. 3:10). Those who are not in Christ but instead advocate the false peace of the antichristian new world order will not escape the great tribulation (1 Thess. 5:3).

Although the rapture is a unique occurrence, there are examples in the Bible of times when God poured out His wrath, but provided an escape route for true believers since they were not the objects of His wrath. In the days of Noah, God announced His judgements upon a wicked and depraved generation: “And God said to Noah, The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark...” (Gen. 6:13-14). Shortly before the outpouring of God’s judgements eight believers escaped the disaster area by entering the ark. God Himself closed the door behind them before He judged the wicked who despised His way of escape (Gen. 7:11-23).

In the time of Lot another rescue operation took place. The night before Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, Lot and his family received an urgent command to depart from the area marked out for judgement. The angels urged Lot to leave Sodom and helped him and his family to do so before they destroyed it. Shortly after their departure, fire and brimstone rained down on the ungodly (Gen. 19:13-25).

The Lord Jesus says that there is a clear correlation between these historical events and God’s end-time dealing with believers and unbelievers: “And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:26-30; also read Genesis chapters 6, 7 & 19).

Because the depravity which characterised the time of both Noah and Lot is typical of the spiritual, moral and social decline of the last days, the following correlation between the historical and end-time conditions should be made:

·         In the times of Noah and Lot anarchy prevailed as people in these lawless and promiscuous societies did just as they pleased. Violence was the most common means used to resolve conflicts. So will it be again...

·         In the times of Noah and Lot moral depravity was widespread. People became so corrupt that they were “wicked in every intent of their thoughts.” So will it be again...

·         In the times of Noah and Lot people were excessively materialistic and adopted permissive life-styles involving all sorts of licentiousness, including sodomy (derived from the name Sodom). So will it be again...

·         In the times of Noah and Lot people scoffed at the believers and chose to ignore the prophetic warnings of forthcoming judgements. They regarded them as far-fetched speculation and continued with their reckless lives. So will it be again...

·         In the times of Noah and Lot God gave the degenerate sinners reasonable time to repent of their evil ways. They refused to repent and thereby sealed their own fate. They had only themselves to blame for their downfall and punishment. So will it be again...

·         In the times of Noah and Lot God offered a way of escape to the believers at the critical moment before He turned in wrath to punish the wicked. The order of events was: First the prophetic warnings about the impending judgements, then the safeguarding of the believers who took heed of the appeal to repent, and ultimately the outpouring of wrath upon the wicked. So will it be again...

·         In the times of Noah and Lot there was no security for nominal believers whose hearts were still devoted to the things of this world. Lot’s wife was a type of those believers who only have an outward form of godliness, but are still spiritually dead. This false pretence cost her her life at the last moment. So will it be again...

·         In the times of Noah and Lot an awful disaster struck this world soon after the evacuation of the believers. Death and destruction occurred as never before in history. So will it be again...

·         In the times of Noah and Lot the wicked did not realise how many privileges and blessings they enjoyed due to the presence of a few believers in their midst. God was prepared to pardon a whole city if there were only ten believers in it. When these believers, who shone like lights in a wicked and perverted generation, were taken out of the way, complete spiritual darkness characterised the godless, and provoked the anger of God. So will it be again...

·         In the times of Noah people scoffed at the builders of the ark, and in their ignorance were unaware of their peril “until the flood came and took them all away; so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matt. 24:39).

The minds of those at enmity with God are darkened and they persist in pride and rebellion until disaster and judgement overtakes them. If this describes your condition, will you not rather come over to God’s side today and be reconciled to Him through His Son’s death on the cross? He alone can make you worthy to escape the approaching tribulation, which is God’s judgement on a sinful world. You can be with Jesus in the safety and joy of His Father’s house when tribulation comes upon the world.

Withholders

Noah and Lot had to remonstrate with the ungodly people of their time with persistent warnings. Christian believers of the church era have an even greater responsibility to fulfil their role as the salt of a corrupt earth and the light of a dark world. The church indwelt by the Holy Spirit is opposing the iniquitous spirit of the Antichrist in advance of his coming: “And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders” (2 Thess. 2:6-9).

“The great and terrible day of the Lord” (Joel 2:31) will not come prior to the rapture and the subsequent revelation of Antichrist. That awful period of judgement will be preceded by a great “falling away” (2 Thess. 2:3). This Greek term (apostasia) literally means “to depart”. When the truth departs, the lie prevails. When Christians depart at the rapture, spiritual darkness will prevail on earth.

While Christians remain on earth they are expected to make a bold stand for the truth, thus restraining the build-up of antichristian forces. After their departure at the rapture, the Antichrist will be able to take over the world unopposed. A spirit of delusion will then prevail and, as “the man of sin” (2 Thess. 2:3), the Antichrist will display to the entire world a personal example of an utterly immoral, godless life-style.

The Antichrist cannot be revealed until the one who restrains him has been taken out of the way. This role is fulfilled by the church as the body of Christ indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Do not attach any credibility to the theory that the rapture will occur in the middle of the tribulation period of seven years. After 3½ years the Antichrist will break his covenant with Israel, desecrate the temple and declare himself to be God (Dan. 9:27, 11:36-37; Matt. 24:15-21; 2 Thess. 2:4). Then Israel will have to flee to the wilderness for survival (Matt. 24:16; Rev. 12:14). This flight to the wilderness in the middle of the seven-year tribulation period is not to be confused with the rapture. It is something quite different.

The unscriptural teaching of a mid-tribulation or a post-tribulation rapture leads to a warped perspective and wrong priorities. Instead of awaiting the coming of Christ, people are awaiting the Antichrist. In this way they compromise their commitment to Christ. Instead of striving for sanctification in expectation of the imminent coming of the heavenly Bridegroom, they start planning an earthly survival strategy for the tribulation period. Such activities are irrelevant as they are motivated by a distorted prophetic vision of future events.

The command to us is not to prepare for the coming of the Antichrist, but for the coming of Jesus Christ! We should remain engaged in His work until He comes. If we are constantly occupied with the work assigned to us by Christ, we will not be on earth when the Antichrist is revealed. People who think that they can calculate the time of the rapture by waiting for the Antichrist to come and then add another 3½ years until the Lord comes, are missing the point and also a very important aspect of the prophecies.

The judgement seat of Christ

The rapture should never be viewed in isolation, but as a means to an end. It describes the way in which all true believers will be swiftly removed from earth to heaven where they must appear before the judgement seat of Christ. To be ready for the rapture, therefore, implies readiness to give account of one’s life and stewardship before Christ’s judgement seat: “For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to that he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10; see also Rom. 14:10,12). The following crowns will be awarded to the faithful ones:

·         The crown of rejoicing for soul-winners (1 Thess. 2:19).

·         The incorruptible crown for a holy life (1 Cor. 9:24-25).

·         The crown of life for Christian martyrs (Rev. 2:10).

·         The crown of glory for faithful shepherds (1 Pet. 5:2-4).

·         The crown of righteousness for those who loved the appearing of the Lord (2 Tim. 4:8).

After having received crowns as reward for faithful service, the glorified believers will gather around the throne of God to worship Him for His creation and worship the Lamb for His righteousness and great work of redemption (Rev. 4 & 5). They will share with Christ in judging the world during the tribulation period (1 Cor. 6:2), and look forward to returning with Him to the earth after the seven years to reign with Him as kings: “And they sang a new song, saying: You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open the seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10; cf. Rev. 2:25-27).

The Second Coming of Christ

On the last day of the great tribulation, during the battle of Armageddon, Jesus Christ will appear on a white horse, followed by the heavenly armies of angels and all His saints, to engage in a short but decisive battle with His enemies:

“Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the wine-press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:11-16).

The Second Coming of Jesus, which is described in Revelation 19, will be like lightning that will be seen from everywhere. But physically He will return to the city of Jerusalem: “And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two, from east to west, making a very large valley; half of the mountain shall move towards the north and half of it towards the south. Then you shall flee through My mountain valley, for the mountain valley shall reach to Azal. Yes, you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Thus the Lord my God will come, and all the saints with You” (Zech. 14:4-5).

The Lord Jesus will come with His saints, who were raptured before the tribulation period to be united with Him forever. They will share in His glorious revelation to the world. Jude writes: "Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgement on all" (Jude v. 14-15).

Destruction of the enemy forces

The coming of Christ will lead to a direct confrontation with the multinational forces mustered by the Antichrist and the false prophet. It will be a bad day for these wicked enemies as they will be faced by the One who has all power in heaven and on earth: “And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshipped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh” (Rev. 19:11-21).

After the enemies of God have been defeated and the Antichrist, the false prophet and their followers have been judged, the devil will be imprisoned and kept securely in custody for a thousand years: “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished” (Rev. 20:1-3).

The description of the binding of the devil is an extension of the scenario of Revelation 19 and is therefore a direct result of the return of Jesus. It follows immediately after the final judgement of the Antichrist and the false prophet, and is therefore not an event that can be extracted from this context and applied to the present dispensation of the church.

At the cross, victory was indeed gained over the devil. His doom was sealed there but its execution was deferred. We can accept this fact in faith and lead a life of victory over the enemy. But that does not mean that Satan was removed from the scene after Calvary and imprisoned somewhere. On the contrary! Peter says that the devil still goes around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he can devour (1 Pet. 5:8). This warning is given to Christians so that they may remain sober, watchful and clad in the whole armour of God. We can live in the victory of Calvary if we consistently stay near to our Saviour and resist the Evil One in the power of the Holy Spirit:

An end-time strategy

Christians should have specific strategies, or plans of action, through which they give practical expression to their general objectives to live holy lives, to do the work of the Lord, and to be ready for His coming. The promise of the rapture is a very important motivating force in determining our objectives and the strategies emanating from them. The main guiding principles of this promise are the following:

Good news

The rapture is the good news element in a dark scenario of end-time prophecies. Without this promise Christians would be left only with the bad news about the coming of the Antichrist and the tribulation period which they would have to face before Jesus comes. Their chances of surviving all the apocalyptic disasters of the great tribulation and the battle of Armageddon would be slim indeed. A situation like that can be equated to the Flood without the ark, or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah without any provision for the escape of the believers from the scene of God’s wrath. Such a situation would be highly demoralising and contradict a clear biblical principle that true believers are never the objects of God’s wrath. “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9; cf. 1 Thess. 1:10).

A correct future expectation

To believe in the pre-tribulation rapture gives us the assurance that we have a truly biblical future expectation. It does not in any way contradict other biblical truths. This end-time perspective honours the Lord Jesus and recognises Him as the key to all prophecy in Scripture, “for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10). Christians should remain focused on Him and wait for His sudden appearance – not for the Antichrist’s. Those who deny Him will remain behind after the rapture. Having rejected the way of escape and salvation offered by the true Christ, they will have to endure the Antichrist’s dictatorship and the terrible judgements to follow. What they experience on earth will be a direct result of the seals broken by the Lamb in heaven. Never deny Jesus Christ His central position in biblical prophecies. To expect His imminent return, and to order your life accordingly, is a command which is intended to be a strong, positive motivation to all Christians of all ages.

A motivation for steadfastness

The coming of the heavenly Bridegroom will occur during a time of religious compromise and worldliness. There will be a great falling away from the truth of God’s Word. A relatively small group of evangelical Christians will shine like lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (Phil. 2:15). As in the times of Noah and Lot, the earth will be filled with violence, materialism, and sexual perversion. Unfortunately, the spirit of unrighteousness and immorality will also take its toll among Christians. They will relax their vigilance and make downward adjustments to their spiritual standards: “And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12). Some Christians will become backslidden or discouraged in the work of the Lord. Inactive Christians often compromise their dedication to the Lord and their responsibility to serve Him faithfully. Their spiritual decline may manifest itself in various ways. The most common are, either to abandon the need for sanctification, becoming worldly-minded, enjoying worldly parties and eating and drinking to excess; or to become critical and dictatorial in their relations with other Christians. The Lord Jesus warned against such sinful behaviour and challenged it by using the prospect of His sudden, unexpected return as a positive motivation to remain steadfast to the end (Matt. 24:45-50).

Correctly determining and prioritising works

The fact that our works will be judged after the rapture, and that only those with eternal value will be rewarded, is of great significance in helping us to devote ourselves to objectives that are higher than the material things of this perishable world. After conversion our lives should yield the fruit of the Spirit and we should not waste time and resources on earthly things, pleasure or valueless works. Will you be found a worthy servant or will you stand empty-handed before the judgement seat of Christ on that day, saved as by fire? (1 Cor. 3:14-16). If you lose sight of the possibility of the Lord’s imminent return you may lapse into complacency, spiritual inactivity, and even into sin (2 Pet. 3:10,17-18).

Motivation for holiness

One of the strongest motivations that the promise of the rapture instils into a Christian is that of holiness. As members of the bridal church we should commit ourselves to the challenge of being presented to the heavenly Bridegroom as chaste virgins. That implies the responsibility to be vigilant by not allowing the wicked one to pervert or corrupt our minds and lives (2 Cor. 11:2-3). Jesus Christ gave Himself to sanctify and cleanse the church that He might present it to Himself holy and without spot or blemish (Eph. 5:25-27). We have a distinct responsibility to use the means of grace at our disposal to walk in the ways of the Lord and to become holy in all our conduct (1 Pet. 1:15). “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord” (2 Cor. 7:1).

Hope during trials and afflictions

Under the dark shadow of trials and afflictions, when our prospects on earth look bleak, the belief in Christ’s coming for us at the rapture is a light at the end of the tunnel. Through many sorrows and suffering, millions of Christians have clung desperately to the promise of resurrection and union with the Lord at the rapture. It gave them strength to endure, counting earthly things and even their own lives as of no account so that they might win eternity with Christ. So, take courage, lift up your head, and expect the coming of the Lord, knowing your future is safe and sure in His hands.

A sense of destiny

Like Abraham we should see ourselves as strangers and sojourners in a world that “lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19). Since our future is not here, we need a vision of the city with foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:10). In our pilgrimage through this world, we need a strong sense of destiny. When the Lord comes for us at the rapture, He will take us to our eternal home in the new Jerusalem (1 Cor. 2:9; John 14:2; Rev. 21:2). We should not identify ourselves with this world and become one with its materialism, pleasure-seeking and moral and spiritual depravity. This would not mean we are poorly motivated and a people without a mission. To the contrary! We are happy to proclaim the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvellous light. While serving the Lord as faithful witnesses, we should always keep our eye on Him as “the bright and morning star” (Rev. 22:16) that shines above the dark horizon of a troubled and hostile world. The morning star tells us the night is far spent and the day is at hand. Before Jesus appears as the Sun of Righteousness, when every eye shall see Him, He will come secretly to snatch away His bride.

The great significance of the rapture

In the light of all the biblical facts about the rapture it is clear that this is an extremely important teaching to all believers. There are at least 12 different aspects of the rapture that need to be properly understood and taken account of:

It is a direct intervention by God. The supernatural nature of the rapture, in which millions of Christians will be caught up in the air, will be so clearly an intervention by God that no scientific explanation will ever account for this astounding phenomenon. “The Lord Himself” will remove the saints from planet earth (1 Thess. 4:16).

It is a meeting with the Lord Jesus. When the Lord Jesus descends from heaven with the sounding of the trumpet of God, those who died in Christ will be raised from the dead, while the living believers will be changed in the twinkling of an eye. Together they will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:16-17). The unsaved people will not see Him on this occasion.

It is associated with the first resurrection. The rapture is directly related to the first resurrection when all believers will receive glorified resurrection bodies. Those who have died in Christ will be raised first – then the living believers will be miraculously changed while they pass from mortality to immortality without dying (1 Cor. 15:52).

It separates true and nominal believers. Apart from the division that the rapture will effect between the saved and unsaved people in the world, it will also separate born-again believers from the nominal Christians within the professing church (Matt. 25:1-13), many of whom have only a form of godliness (2 Tim. 3:5).

It marks the end of the church age. It is important to consider the rapture in its dispensational context – i.e. at the end of the church age and just before the beginning of the tribulation period, which will be a distinct dispensation with its own characteristics (2 Thess. 2).

It makes way for the revelation of the Antichrist. The rapture is directly related to the revelation of the Antichrist. The true church of Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, is withholding the Antichrist, who can only be revealed after the church has been taken out of the way (2 Thess. 2:6-10).

It is an escape from divine wrath. The rapture also constitutes a dramatic rescue operation in which true believers will be removed from the scene of impending divine judgements upon earth, since they are not the objects of God’s wrath (1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9; Luke 21:36).

It is a motivation for steadfastness. There will be a great end-time falling away from the truth of God’s Word. Christians having the hope of Christ’s coming, purify themselves as He is pure (1 John 3:3), and resist any tendency to grow cold in their love for Him (Matt. 24:12).

It is a summons to the judgement seat of Christ. The certainty of the rapture confronts us with the solemn prospect of appearing before Christ at His judgement seat to give account of our lives (Rom. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:10).

It is a journey to the marriage of the Lamb. After appearing before the judgement seat, believers forming the bride will be united to the heavenly Bridegroom never to be separated from Him again (Rev. 19:7-8; Ps. 45:9).

It is a journey to our eternal home. The Lord Jesus promised that He would return to take the saints away to their heavenly abode in His Father’s house with the many mansions (John 14:2-3). “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9). What a wonderful future to look forward to!

It will promote us to be co-rulers with Christ. After the rapture and the tribulation period, the glorified saints will return with Christ and reign with Him as kings on earth (Luke 19:17-19; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 2:26-27; 5:10).

P.S. For supporting literature, please consult the website www.bibleguidance.co.za The author may be contacted at johan@bibleguidance.co.za

Source: Holy Bible, New King James Version.