The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Jesus is Coming Back For You

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"

-         I Thessalonians 4:17

When Paul planted the church in Thessalonica he only stayed there about one month. When you read the Thessalonian epistles it's striking to see the depth of the spiritual foundation Paul (under the empowerment of the Holy Spirit) was able to lay at this church. What is also striking is the emphasis on Christ's return. If you had to instruct people on their faith and only had a month to do it, I'm sure you would focus on the most foundational points. That's what Paul did. One of the most prominent points he taught was that Christ would return. Paul wrote, "Therefore, comfort one another with these words" (I Thessalonians 5:18). May this issue comfort and excite you in your faith.

No one would dispute that Christians experience trials and tribulations in this life. Jesus said we would (John 16:33). The Bible explains that such trials serve a vital purpose in maturing the believer's faith (James 1:2-5; I Peter 1:6-9). God in His sovereign will permits trials because they serve his purposes (Job 1-2; I Peter 4:12-19).  However, it is Satan and the world under his grip that implements such trials and his motivation is to destroy the believer's faith (I Peter 5:8-11).

The trials the believer experiences are not God's wrathful judgment. The trials we face are the result of remaining in a sinful world environment as God awaits the last Gentile to accept His Son as Savior (Romans 11:25; I Peter 3:9). Only God knows the exact number that will complete the phrase, "the fullness of the Gentiles has come in". At this point in history the Bible declares that a final seven years of God's judgment will begin. This is referred to as, "the time of Jacob's trouble" because Israel will go through it (Jeremiah 30:7), and the seventieth week of Daniel (Daniel 9:24-27). The last half of this seven year period is referred to as "the Great Tribulation" (Matthew 24:21; Mark 13:19; Revelation 7:14). The Great Tribulation is a time in which God pours out His wrathful judgment on an unbelieving world (Revelation 6:17; 11:18; 16:1). This is going to be a terrible time on the earth. So terrible will those times be, that people will "seek death" but God will not permit them to escape in this way (Revelation 9:6). The Great Tribulation is described in the book of Revelation chapters 6-19. But what about us? Will we have to experience God's wrath?

Whether or not believers will have to experience God's wrath raises an important question about the integrity of God's revealed nature. Would it be just, fair and in line with a holy God to pour out His wrathful judgment on believers and unbelievers alike? The answer to this is found in the Old Testament book of Genesis. In Genesis 18 the Lord appeared to Abraham to confirm the promise of a son to Abraham and Sarah even in their old age. As the Lord is leaving, He shares that He intends to judge Sodom and Gomorrah in order to teach Abraham to "keep the way of the Lord" (18:19). God wanted to teach Abraham that He is a righteous Judge. Abraham's nephew Lot lived in Sodom so he then asks, "Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked?" (18:23). Abraham, the man of faith (15:6), "friend of God" (James 2:23) knows it is contrary to God's nature to "destroy the righteous with the wicked”. He states, "Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (18:25). The Lord confirms what He has put in Abraham's heart by saying, "I will not destroy it for the sake of ten" (18:32). And as we study further, God did not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah until Lot and his family were removed. Indeed the implication is that judgment cannot occur until the righteous are removed (19:22-24). On top of this, a study of the life of Lot reveals that he was only minimally righteous. Lot wasn't what you'd call a pillar of faith (13:10-13; 19:1-14). God is merciful. God will not destroy the righteous with the wicked!

The God who is so much for us that He gave His only Son to save us, and says He will "freely give us all things" (Romans 8:31-32), will not pour out His wrath on those who put their faith in His Son. There are clear statements to substantiate this. Listen to God's word: ". . . Wait for His son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come" (I Thessalonians 1:10; "For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Thessalonians 5:9); "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" (Revelation 3:10). Furthermore, in Luke 21 Jesus is concluding His Olivet Discourse on the End Times and instructs His disciples (who were to become the pillars of the Church) to: "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).

Jesus would not instruct His disciples to pray for something unless He wanted them to receive it. These verses are conclusive proof that God doesn't desire His people to experience His wrath. God will not pour out His wrath on those in the Church!

Now this raises another question. If God is going to pour out His wrath on this world, and we are living in "this world”, how do we "escape" the wrath to come? Where will we be when God pours out His wrath on this world? The answer is we'll be with Him! How can this be? How will God accomplish this? Jesus is coming back for His church, before the tribulation occurs. The Bible refers to this as the Rapture: "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" (I Thessalonians 4:16-17).

The word "rapture" doesn't appear in Scripture. But that doesn't discount this doctrine any more than the doctrines of the "Trinity" or the "Millennium" whose words also are not found in Scripture. We get the word "rapture" from the Latin translation of I Thessalonians 4:17. The phrase "caught up" in the original Greek is translated from one Greek word, harpazo. When the Latin Vulgate translation was made harpazo was translated by the Latin word raptus. This is how we got the word rapture which refers to Christ's coming for His Church.

The Rapture of the Church is not taught in the Old Testament. This may be in part because the idea of "the Church" is also not taught in the Old Testament. Jesus introduced the idea of the Church in Matthew 16:18 when He said, ". . . On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it". The word "church" is ekklesia in the original Greek text and refers to a general "calling out" or gathering of people to discuss the affairs of state. The word "church" became particularly associated with the gathering of believers early on in Christian history (Acts 2:47). The Church was a "mystery" revealed in New Testament times (Ephesians 3:1-12). Therefore, since the Rapture pertains only to those who comprise the Church, it stands logical that the Rapture would only be revealed when God revealed the purposes and plans for the Church in the New Testament.

While most of Christendom believes Jesus will return for His Church, not everyone agrees that Jesus will rapture the Church before The Tribulation. Those who believe Jesus will rapture the Church midway through the Tribulation are referred to as holding a Mid-Tribulation view. Those who believe Jesus will rapture His Church after the Tribulation are referred to as Post-Tribulationists. Faithful people can be found in all three camps and whatever view you hold to should not become a source of division in the Church.

Some liberal scholars as well as Jehovah's Witnesses and New Age proponents opt for a spiritualized interpretation of End Times Scripture. Liberal scholars who hold to an amillenial view of Scripture do not believe in taking the Bible literally and see such doctrines as the Rapture in a symbolic way. Amillenialists tend to see the promises of Israel fulfilled in the Church. It's my opinion that such a view destroys the original intent of the Scripture and opens the door to the twisting of Scripture to one's own subjective predispositional whims. Roman Catholicism tends to opt for an amillenial view of Scripture. Jehovah's Witnesses spiritualized the Coming of Jesus after their numerous prophecies of His Coming didn't appear. New Agers believe "Jesus" and "Christ" are separate. They believe Jesus was a "Christ" in that he was a reincarnated avatar (i.e. a messenger or channeler who connects mankind with the reservoir of cosmic consciousness). To them Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed and Confucius were "Christs”. They believe there is a "Law of Avatars" in which each "new age" is ushered in by "The Christ" of that age who will give new revelation which will guide one through that age in an ascending evolutionary path. (Sounds like a good deal for someone who would want to set themselves up to be Anti-Christ!)

There was a time in my spiritual walk when I held to a Post-Tribulation view. But as I have studied, clarified, and "rightly divided" (2 Timothy 2:15) God's Word, I have come to believe firmly in the Pre-Tribulation position. What changed my mind? The following are three basic reasons for my change of heart.

First, the pre-tribulation rapture coincides with God's nature. Nowhere in Scripture does God pour out His wrath on the faithful! I used to mistakenly believe that Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego were examples of going through tribulation like circumstances. But God didn't light that fire! Nebuchadnezzar lit that fire and turned the heat up in an attempt to destroy the three faithful of God. God will allow us to go through fiery trials, but He will never be the direct Source of them. "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him" (Romans 5:8-9).

When that Scripture says, "from the wrath to come" that includes any wrath whose source is God whether during the Great Tribulation or in eternal hellfire!

Second, the pre-tribulation rapture exalts Christ. If you hold to a Post-Tribulation Rapture position the natural consequence is to look for the appearing of the Anti-Christ because he is the mark of the beginning of the final seven year period preceding the coming of Jesus. A Pre-Tribulation view puts our focus on looking for Jesus' return. I'd rather be looking for Jesus than Anti-Christ, wouldn't you?!

It should also be said that if you believe in a Post-Trib position, you have a host of markers that must occur before Jesus returns. That means the Rapture couldn't be imminent or coming at any time. That contradicts what the Bible says. The Bible says no one knows the day of Christ's coming and that the Rapture could occur at anytime (Mark 13:35-37; Luke 21:36; I Thessalonians 5:1-2). The Bible implies that if you knew when Jesus was returning you could bide your time (Matthew 25; I Thessalonians 5:4). But you don't know the time and therefore the believer should live in a constant state of readiness: "For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. But you brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief…. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober" (I Thessalonians 5:2, 4, 6; see also I John 3:2-3)

Finally, the pre-tribulational view is logical Scripturally. In his book No Fear the Storm (p.240), Tim LaHaye states, "When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense, but take every word at its primary, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context clearly indicate otherwise." Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, "Test all things; hold fast what is good" (5:21). If the Church is to go through the Tribulation why is there no instruction on how to survive it? If the Church is to go through the Tribulation why in Revelation 6-19, (which contains the most elaborate details of the Tribulation period) is the Church not mentioned? In fact there is good reason to believe that the first three chapters of Revelation give the full history of the Church up to the point of the Rapture and then in Revelation 4:1 John, who may be representative of the Church is called to "Come up here" - "After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me saying, 'Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this" (4:1).

From that point on the Church is mentioned as in the heavenly presence of Jesus in the book of Revelation. Would the Rapture be a "blessed hope" if Christians had to go through the Tribulation? Paul wrote to Titus to teach about the "blessed hope" of Jesus' "glorious appearing" (Titus 2:13). What makes the Rapture blessed is the fact that God will save us from "the wrath to come"!

In I Thessalonians 4:13-18 we have one of the clearest references to the Rapture of the Church. The Rapture is something Paul did not want people to be "ignorant" of (4:13). The Rapture is something you need to know about! Those who die in the faith before the Rapture will be "with" Jesus at the Rapture (4:14-16). Those of us who are alive at the Rapture will be "caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air" (4:17). This distinguishes the Rapture from the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the Tribulation period. At the Rapture Jesus comes for His Church who meets Him "in the clouds . . . in the air". At the Second Coming, Jesus will return with His saints (Jude 14), and come upon the earth to judge the earth and set up His 1000 year reign (Zechariah 14:1-7; Revelation 11:15; 20:4). These are words that should be a comfort to us (4:18).

Is the Rapture a "comfort" to you? Are you ready? You may hold a different view than stated in this piece. There is a lot more evidence than what was presented in this short article. Just remember, God is for you and

He's coming back for you. If you don't hold to a Pre-Tribulation view now, those of us who do will explain it on the way up! He could come tonight.

Rapture References
Second Coming References
Luke 21:36
Daniel 2:44-45; 7:9-14; 12:1-3
John 14:1-3
Zechariah 14:1-15
Romans 5:9
Matthew 13:41; 24:15-31; 26:64
I Corinthians 1:7-8; 15:1-53; 16:22
Mark 13:14-27; 14:62
Colossians 3:4
Acts 1:9-11; 3:19-21
I Thessalonians 1:10; 2:19; 4:13-18; 5:9,23
I Thessalonians 3:13
II Thessalonians 2:1
II Thessalonians 1:6-10; 2:8
I Timothy 6:14
II Peter 3:1-14
II Timothy 4:1
Jude 21
Titus 2:13
Revelation 1:7; 19:11-20:6; 22:7,12,20
Hebrews 9:28
James 5:7-9
I Peter 1:7,13
I John 2:28-3:2
Jude 21
Revelation 2:25; 3:10; 4:1



[1] For further information -
Hunt, Dave. How Close Are We? Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Pub., 1993.
Missler, Chuck. From Here to Eternity. Coeur d'Alene, ID: Koinonia House, 1995.
LaHaye, Tim. No Fear The Storm. Sisters, Oregon: Multimomah, 1992.
Ludwigson, R. A Survey of Bible Prophecy. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1973.
Smith, Chuck. The Tribulation and The Church. Costa Mesa, CA: Word For Today, 1994.
Walvoord, Dr. John F. Prophecy - 14 Essential Keys To Understanding The Final Drama. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Pub., 1993.

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