This sermon is number 2 in a series of 6
"Rapture - Fact Or Fairytale?"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2004 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
John 14:1-3; 1 Cor 15:51-58; 1 Thes 4:13-18
John's gospel chapter 14, and this is a very familiar passage to most of you so we'll only read just the first three verses, because that's all that will be taking our attention really this evening. Verse 1: "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".
Put a finger, or if you don't have enough of those put a marker in chapter 14, and turn with me to 1 Corinthians chapter 15 - all these three passages are on the theme of the rapture, and we'll prove that later on in our meeting, but just keep that in mind as we read these verses. Again this is a great passage of Scripture that we spent several weeks on recently in our exegesis of the first epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, specifically on resurrection, but we'll take just these verses 51 to 58 on the subject of the rapture: "Behold", Paul says, "I shew 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 trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord".
Put a marker in 1 Corinthians 15, and now turn with me to 1 Thessalonians 4 verse 13 - Paul, again, writing to this church in Thessalonica says: "But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep", which is just a phrase for those who have died in Christ, "that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent", or go before, "them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words".
Now I hope we established to most people's satisfaction last Monday evening that the only possible, as far as I'm concerned, biblical interpretation of prophetic truth within the Scriptures is a pre-millennial one. I hope that we showed that not just from the word of God, but from history and the fact that the early church predominantly, if not exclusively, for the first 300 years of her history was a pre-millennial church. Then we looked hermeneutically - that is the method of interpreting the Scriptures - we saw how the only real consistent way to interpret God's word is a literal, historical, grammatical interpretation read from Genesis to Revelation. That did not mean that there is no symbolism within the word of God, that we cannot read typology into certain truth - but first and foremost, the primary interpretation of all Scripture must be literal, historical and grammatical, and consistent throughout.
So we saw that pre-millennialism was the most biblical way of interpreting prophetic Scripture, yet I did allude last week to the fact that even among those calling themselves pre-millennialists there are different interpretations of prophetic Scripture - specifically on this subject that we're looking at tonight, the subject of the rapture of the church. There are about three major sections within pre-millennialism - that's right! Three more sections in pre-millennialism alone, in their understanding of the rapture of the church. Now, if David kindly puts the first diagram on the screen here which you have on the back of your study sheet, just to make it a little bit easier for me to point it out even though I don't have a pointer tonight - what we're talking about here with regards to the rapture of the church is this little line here, the coming of the Lord to the air, which is under number 4 in your diagram.
Now pre-tribulationists are people who believe that the rapture will take place before the tribulation - Daniel's 70th week - the Great Tribulation when God will pour on to this world, trouble that has never been seen before. So a pre-tribulationist is someone who believe that the rapture will take place before, pre- the tribulation. That's easy enough to understand, I hope. Then there's a group of people called mid-tribulationists, and they believe that after this false peace that is brought in by Antichrist after the first three and a half years of the tribulation's seven years, then the Lord Jesus will come to the air and rapture His church just before all of the - what would you say? - obvious wrath is poured out upon the earth. So in the 'mid' period, that's the mid-tribulationists. Then there are post-tribulationists, even among pre-millennialists, people who believe that the Lord Jesus Christ's coming to the air and the rapture of the church will take place almost simultaneously with His coming to the earth. His coming to the air for His saints and rapturing them will take place at the same time as His coming to the earth, the Mount of Olives, at the very end of the Great Tribulation just about number 8 there - it's all going to happen round about together at that point.
So even among people who would call themselves pre-millennialists, there are different views with regards to the rapture of the church. There's also a group of believers who call themselves partial-rapturists, and they believe really - some of them at least - that the rapture could take place at any point during the Great Tribulation, but the initial rapture will take place before the tribulation but specifically only of people who are really sanctified, really going on with God, and they would call them 'the overcomers' - real spiritual people will be raptured.
Now we'll deal with some of these features as we go throughout our study tonight, but of course we looked last week at a-millennialists and post-millennialists who generally believe that this idea of a rapture, being different and distinct from the actual coming of the Lord Jesus to the earth and His feet landing on the Mount of Olives, that it's a figment of the imagination, it's a fairytale of wooden literalistic Bible interpretation. It's a fairytale. So we're asking the question tonight under our title: 'The Rapture of the Church of Jesus Christ: is it a fact, a biblical fact that we can prove from the Scriptures, or is it a fanciful fairytale from our futuristic imagination?'.
In recent years a pre-wrath advocate, and that simply means one of these mid-tribulationists who believe that the Lord will take the church to be with Himself midway just before the real wrath starts three and a half years into the tribulation, a pre-wrath tribulationist by the name of Marvin Rosenthal - a converted Jew - wrote that 'the pre-tribulation rapture', I quote, 'is of satanic origin'. What are we talking about? Those who believe, and we include ourselves among those here in the Iron Hall tonight, we who believe that the Lord Jesus is going to rapture the church before the Great Tribulation are believing a satanic deception, something that he says - I quote: 'was unheard of before 1830', just a couple of hundred years ago.
That's one modern day objection to the belief in the rapture of the church just before the seven-year tribulation period. But there are other objections, those who say that this idea of a rapture is a fairytale say: 'Well, it's not found in the Bible'. If you get your concordance down and look right throughout the Old and New Testament, you will not find the word 'rapture' in the whole of the Scriptures. It's some theology that has been dreamed up in a man's imagination, but it's not found within the word of God. Then others who believe it's a fairytale believe that it was first introduced by John Nelson Darby of the Brethren movement - it's not from the Bible, but it was his invention. There are others who go even further to say that his invention came and was engendered by a prophetic utterance of a woman called Margaret McDonald in a meeting by a man called Edward Irving, who was really a precursor to the modern day pentecostal movement. J. N. Darby heard this prophetic utterance at Edward Irving's meeting, and it talked about a pre-tribulation rapture and he imbibed it, and he built his eschatology all around it, and that's where we get the idea of a rapture today.
Now the objections continue, and I could go on through a lot more this evening - save to say that they're all as ridiculous as those that I've just mentioned. All of them fail to credibly react with the Holy Scripture's biblical weight with regards to the evidence we have in the word of God for a rapture, and indeed for a pre-tribulation rapture before the Great Tribulation on the earth. So what I want us to do is systematically tonight, first of all deal in brief with some of these fairytales that we've mentioned; and then secondly deal with the real biblical facts that we would rather get to tonight; and then finish off, God willing, if time permits focusing ourselves on what the rapture really ought to mean for us as Bible-believing Christians.
So let's look first of all at your first point: fairytales concerning the teaching of the rapture. I don't know whether you've ever heard of 'straw doll argumentation' - that simply means that if you're going to pull down another argument, you don't really grapple with the real issues that they're propounding, but you erect the issues that you want people to think they're propounding, and then you seek to destroy them and show that you have defeated their argument. It's not really dealing with the issues of your opponent, but rather it's inventing the issues that aren't there, that they're not propounding, and then seeking to prove those wrong when they aren't authentic in the first place. I believe that this is such, in a sense, as we go through some of these fairytales concerning what people say pre-tribulationists teach with regards to the rapture.
Let's deal with the first objection: those who say that the word 'rapture' is not found in the Bible, it doesn't appear within the word of God. You're right in one sense, if you believe that a linguistic translation such as the Authorised Version is the original Scriptures - which of course, it is not, it is the translation into English from the original Greek - but there's more than an English translation of the Bible, of course you know that. Before we go on any further with regards to the word 'rapture', which I believe is found in the Bible, you will not find the word 'Trinity' in the Bible, you will not find the word 'Bible' in the Bible - but we don't object to the use of that word, I hope. The fact of the matter is that the word which we read in 1 Thessalonians 4, if you want to turn to it, in verse 14 'caught up' is one word in the Greek language: 'Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air'. It is the Greek word 'harpazo' - you find it in Acts chapter 8, where you remember Philip went to preach to the Ethiopian eunuch. After his job was done and he'd led him to Christ, preaching from Isaiah 53, the Bible says that the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip - 'harpazo' is the Greek word. He was caught away, he was snatched away in a spiritual sense, he just disappeared.
You find the same word 'harpazo' in 2 Corinthians 12 and verses 2 and 4, where Paul is speaking of another man it seemed, but of his own testimony, spoke of how he was caught up to the third heaven and saw things that couldn't be uttered in our own languages - but this word 'caught up' is 'harpazo', to be snatched away. Now listen to me: it is a verb, but the noun corresponding to the verb 'harpazo' is simply the idea of rapture - Philip was raptured away from the Ethiopian eunuch, Paul was raptured into the third heaven - it means to seize upon with force, to snatch up, and the Greek word is the word that we get our English word 'harpoon' from...'harpazo'...'harpoon'. Now many years ago there was a translation of the Bible that was in Latin that was mostly used during the medieval times, and was adopted also by the Roman Catholic Church, and it was called the Latin Vulgate Version. The Latin Vulgate Version of the Bible used the word 'rapere', which is the root English term for 'rapture' - it is the word we get 'rapture' from. The idea is there, the root of the word 'rapture' is there - but apart from all that, many people that throw this stone at pre-tribulationists and say 'rapture' is not in the Bible, don't even realise that most, if not all, biblical commentators when they come to 1 Thessalonians 4, no matter what they believe about when or if the rapture will take place, interpret this as a rapture. The issue is not so much is it a rapture, but when it will take place and who it applies to. It is a false argument, so that's all the time we're going to spend on tonight - it is a fairytale in itself.
Secondly, here is another objection that people bring to the idea of a rapture before the tribulation, and I've just entitled it 'The Irvingites'. Marv Rosenthal, that I mentioned to you in my introduction, is a modern day adherent to this. He claims that this idea of a rapture before the tribulation was unheard of before 1830. In fact, I quote him, he says that 'It was introduced by Satanic means', I quote, 'to thwart the Lord's warning to His children'. He claims that Satan, the father of lies, gave a 15 -year-old girl named Margaret McDonald a lengthy vision. This vision was said to happen at a meeting of Edward Irving, and it was claimed by Rosenthal that Darby, who was there, adapted that prophetic utterance in a charismatic sense, and he built his eschatology around it. Now let me say that, as far as I can see, Rosenthal and other claimants of this issue of this prophecy that was given, cannot or do not substantiate their claims - they do not document the claim. Apart from the fact that the authenticity of those accusations cannot be ascertained, I ask this question: if you know anything about John Nelson Darby - and I hasten to add that I don't agree with him on all terms - but if you know anything about the man and the modern day Plymouth Brethren movement of its age and origins, who could believe that a man like J. N. Darby could base a complete system of eschatology on such a source as a 15 -year-old girl in some pre-charismatic meeting? Apart from all this, it is categorical that J. N. Darby clearly held an early form of pre-tribulation rapture in January 1827, three full years before this prophetic utterance in 1830.
Tommy Ice, who's coming to us in the not too distant future, he quotes F. F. Bruce who was part of the Brethren movement his entire life - and I hasten to also add that he was not a pre-tribulation rapturist, he didn't agree with what we're going to propound tonight - he said: 'When did he', Darby, 'get this idea of a pre-tribulation rapture?', I quote, 'The reviewers answer would be that it was in the air in the 1820s and the 1830s among eager students of unfulfilled prophecy. Direct dependence by Darby upon Margaret McDonald is unlikely'. Here is a man who is among the Brethren, who is an astounding scholar, but who is not a pre-tribulationist, who says it is unlikely that Darby built his eschatology around Margaret McDonald's utterance. A man who is definitely not a pre-tribulationist is called John Bray, he is an opponent of the pre-tribulation rapture. He says in even stronger terms: 'It is impossible for me to believe that Darby got his pre-tribulation rapture teaching from Margaret McDonald's vision in 1830, he was already a believer in it since 1827, as he plainly said'.
In fact, J. N. Darby, if you read his writings, says, testifying that in convalescence around these years of 1827 he was reading the word of God, and the views that he later espoused jumped out of the biblical page simply for one reason - he began to make a distinction between Israel in the word of God and the church, and when he did this everything fell into place. Darby was not the first in history to espouse to it, I'm not going to give you another history lesson tonight - I fear that I may have bored you all last week - but the fact of the matter is that many of the early church fathers believed in the immanency of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, which points to a pre-tribulation rapture. I hope you see that this accusation is not dealing with the biblical facts and the issue is concerned, but it is throwing mud and hoping that it will stick, and it is even happening in our modern age.
Here's the third objection that some make, which I believe is in a sense a fairytale. People say that it's 'a secret rapture' - Revelation 1:7 says that every eye will see the Lord when He returns, but you believe in this sort of secret rapture, an obscure abduction almost like a UFO, when no one will know about it - and all these Christians will disappear. Let me say that years ago pre-tribulationists did use the phrase 'secret rapture', but they did not use it in the way that opponents of pre-tribulationists use it as they erect this straw doll that I'm talking about, to dislocate it and pull apart in their argumentation. It has been misused and misrepresented, and that's why pre-tribulationists have stopped using it, because the idea of a secret rapture does not mean a secretive rapture - the sense is immanency, the sense is that there is nothing left for God to fulfil in His prophetic programme before the Lord Jesus can catch up His church. The very nature of the word 'rapture', 'caught up', is the sense of happening quickly, and people all around us astounded at what has happened.
First Thessalonians clearly teaches that the Lord will shout, there will be the voice of an archangel, there will be a trumpet blown - and although every eye will not see the Lord, I believe eyes will see what has happened, and the vacancy that there is on this planet of Bible-believing Christians. The whole world will know it has happened, even if they don't understand what has happened. Now if you're going to argue against this issue of the rapture of the church, whether it's biblical fact or fanciful fairytale, let's argue with the word of God - not these silly issues that don't really exist. So hopefully, now that we've dispensed with these fairytales concerning the teaching of the rapture, let's go to our second point - the facts from the Bible establishing the teaching of the rapture, and why I believe in the pre-tribulationist view of the rapture.
Now, if we could all turn to one single verse in the Bible tonight to prove that the rapture will take place before the seven-year tribulation, well, I wouldn't have to go on tonight. But there isn't one verse, one plain key verse - when the rapture will take place, where it will take place before the second coming and the tribulation - there is not one verse, or even a couple of verses all together that would really satisfy everyone. That's why there's so much debate about it! We would only be ignorant if we were to say anything else tonight. But as well as saying that, let me also say that there are many doctrines in the Bible that we hold very dear, and there is not one particular proof text that we can turn to to prove it. Systematic theology is a very worthy and valuable endeavour, that is simply taking a theme throughout the word of God, collecting all the facts that you can find within it, putting it together and coming to some conclusions - and there are certain facts that we have come to a conclusion on with regards to doctrine using systematic theology, not just a single verse, but taking a load of verses, harmonising passages and coming to systematic conclusions.
There are proof texts that we could turn to with regards to the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, something we hold as a fundamental - but in order to get a real picture of the whole deity of our Lord, and how His deity, the fact that He is God, relates to His humanity; the fact that He has two distinct natures unmingled in one personality - He was not two people in one body - all these things cannot be found in just one specific verse, you have to take the whole spectrum of Scripture and the weight of evidence there. The Trinity that I mentioned earlier, you will find it very hard to get one verse as a proof text for the Trinity - but we believe it because it's the testimony of the whole of the panorama of the word of God. Do you see what I'm talking about? It's similar with regards to this teaching of the rapture, that if you take a literal interpretation of the New Testament from start to finish relating to the rapture, it will, I believe, lead you to a pre-tribulationist interpretation.
Now that we've laid a foundation, let's look individually at some of these facts. Here's the first fact: if you do a comparison of some of the texts with regards to the second coming of our Lord Jesus, you will find that they're similar. I want you to turn to two passages: John 14 and 1 Thessalonians 4, and keep the two of them open because we're going to flick from one to the other. Some would doubt me, perhaps, reading John 14 as a passage on the rapture, but I hope that you'll see in just a moment or two that John 14 is talking exactly about the same event as 1 Thessalonians 4 - it can only be doing so, and you will see that the words that are used by the Lord are identical almost to the words that are used by the apostle, the phrases, even the order of the phrases are identical, showing us that they all refer to the same event.
Let me prove this to you. First of all look at verse 1 of John chapter 14, He talks about trouble, the Lord: 'Let not your heart be troubled'. Now go on to 1 Thessalonians 4 verse 13, he talks about trouble: 'But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not'. He starts to talk of trouble in John 14:1, and in verse 13 of 1 Thessalonians 4 he's talking about sorrow. Then He goes on in chapter 14 of John: 'ye believe in God, believe also in me' - He talks about belief. Look back at verse 14 of 1 Thessalonians 4: 'For if we believe that Jesus died' - he talks about belief - 'and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him'. Now go back to John 14, and in verse 1 - we haven't even got out of verse 1 yet - He talks about God and He talks about Himself: 'Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me'. Now go back to verse 14 of Thessalonians 4: 'For if we believe that Jesus', there's Jesus, 'died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him'.
Now verse 2 of John 14, He talks about the fact that He has imparted this knowledge to the disciples, He told them: 'In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you'. Verse 15 of 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul says: 'For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord'. Then in verse 3 of John 14, again He talks about coming: 'If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again'. Verse 15 of Thessalonians 4: 'For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them' - 'unto the coming of the Lord', the coming is there also. In verse 3 of John 14 again: 'I will receive you unto myself', and in verse 17 of 1 Thessalonians 4 there is the 'caught up' which is the reception of the church unto Himself. In verse 3 He says 'I will receive you to myself', and then in verse 17 of Thessalonians 4 'caught up together to meet the Lord in the air'.
What does He say in verse 3 John 14? 'Where I am, there ye may be also'. In verse 17 Thessalonians 4: 'and there we shall ever be with the Lord'. Have you seen that before? They are talking about the same event! Of course Paul is talking about the word of the Lord, could it not be the word of the Lord in John chapter 14? I don't know whether it's specifically so, but it certainly is the same event, the words are the same, the phrases the same, almost exact and in the same order - both passages only deal with righteous men, saved men; and both, if you will look at it for a moment, take the saint of God from trouble and sorrow to be forever with the Lord in glory, not on earth, they're taken from earth to heaven. Do you see the progression? There are certain comparisons of Scripture that are exact with regards to the issue of the second coming of the Lord - that is one biblical fact: certain Scriptures are in tandem and in agreement.
But we would have to say, on the other side of the coin, that there are certain Scriptures with regard to the second coming of the Lord which are not in agreement. Now what do I mean? I don't mean that the Bible is contradicting itself, but your second fact is that there is a contrast in the comings of the Lord within scripture. There's a contrast in the comings of the Lord in scripture, and what I mean by that is there's a difference between the rapture and the coming of the Lord to the earth when His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives. Now this truth of the rapture of the church is unique, Paul said that, and we read it tonight in 1 Corinthians 15:51: 'Behold, I shew 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 trump'. A mystery in the word of God is something that had not been revealed to the Old Testament people of God, it is a mystery that God has only declared in this new dispensation to the apostles, and the apostles have given it to us in the Scriptures, the apostle's doctrine in the word of God. This mystery, not of resurrection, that is found in the Old Testament; not of the second advent of the Lord, that is found in the Old Testament, we looked at the prophets last week - but this mystery specifically that not only the dead would be raised, but those who are alive and remain who are saved will be changed at the coming of the Lord, and there will be a translation of the living as well as of the dead - that was never ever known before.
Now when we realise that we see that there is a contrast. The general idea in the Old Testament about resurrection, and even in the New Testament about resurrection, was never ever linked with this idea of rapture and translation of the living when the Lord Jesus comes to establish His kingdom. We see that this mystery, and what had previously been revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures, seem to be quite different when you compare them with one another. So what we're saying is, and I'm going to prove it to you in a minute, that this idea that we've established from John 14, 1 Thessalonians 4, and 1 Corinthians 15, is distinct and contrasting to what we have known in the Old Testament Scriptures with regards to the second coming of the Lord. Now in a sense that should make sense, because if this is a mystery it has to be different somehow from what has already been in the Old Testament Scriptures - do you understand? It cannot be the same if there is something that has not been revealed.
Let me show you the contrast in these two comings - I don't like calling them two comings, because really there's only one second coming of the Lord, but it's for our help. I know you're...well, I'll not say anything...I know you're a bit like myself - you have 'the rapture', and then we'll call it 'the coming in judgment' to distinguish it. You'll need be quick with me tonight to look for these verses. In 1 Thessalonians 4 and verses 16 and 17 the rapture is taught to us as the Lord's coming to the air, I think that's clear - do you see that? Take these down if you don't have the mind to remember them, write them down - 16 and 17 - we'll not read it. Then we turn to Zechariah 14 and verse 4, you can take that down, Zechariah the prophet speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ coming to the earth, not to the air but the earth, and His feet shall land on the Mount of Olives. There's a seismic shift takes place in the geography of Jerusalem and all the rest, and He's coming in judgment, He's coming for His people Israel, and He's coming in judgment - it is distinct. One is to the air, one is to the earth, do you see the difference?
Then a second distinction and contrast is found in these same verses, 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and 17, He doesn't come with His saints, He comes for His saints. He is catching them up to be with the Lord in the air, but when we look at the coming to judgment we find in 1 Thessalonians 3:13, look at this one and we'll read it: 'To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints' - now is that a contradiction of what he's just about to say in chapter 4? It cannot be - He's coming for His saints, but there's a second coming with His saints - Jude 14 talks about it as well, chapter 1 and 14. Then the third contrast of the comings is found 1 Corinthians 15:51: 'We shall all be changed'. The first coming, the rapture, is a translation of all believers - now I'm not going to go into a critique of partial rapture teaching tonight, but save to say that one verse that for me defeats that argument is that verse that says to Corinthian carnal believers, remember what they were like! 'We shall all be changed in the twinkling of an eye'.
The first coming, the rapture, is a translation - but there's no translations at all in the second coming of judgment, there's no change bodily that is spoken of in these passages. Then fourthly, this rapture is spoken of in the same verse as a mystery - 'Behold, I show you a mystery', 1 Corinthians 15 verse 51 - something that has not been revealed, but yet the second coming in judgment is right throughout the whole of the Old Testament in the minor and the major prophets. It's spoken of in Zechariah 14 we referred to just a moment ago - but the theme, the major theme perhaps, of the prophets in the Old Testament was not so much the Lord's first coming to Bethlehem, but His second coming in judgment. So if this is a mystery that has not been revealed, how could it be anything else but this rapture?
Fifthly, the rapture is never said in the New Testament to be preceded by signs in the heavens. If you were to turn tonight to Matthew 24, which is probably one of the most difficult passages in scripture on the second coming, you find that preceding the coming of the Lord in judgment there are celestial disturbances in the skies. In verse 29 of Matthew 24: 'Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory'. There is nothing like that in relation to the Lord's coming for the church, you will not find anything preceding it.
Then sixthly under rapture, the rapture is presented in 1 Thessalonians 4:18 as a time of blessing: 'Wherefore', he says, 'comfort one another with these words'. They were worried about their dead believers, friends and relatives, loved ones - 'Don't worry about it, you're going to be raptured! We don't know when, but the Lord's coming! Then, when you're raptured, they will go before you and rise a split-second before, and you will be with them and go to be with the Lord'. The emphasis of the second coming of judgment is not comfort or blessing, it is God's wrath. Turn to 2 Thessalonians and chapter 2 this time, verses 8 to 12 - look at the contrast here: 'And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth', the Antichrist, 'and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness'. A totally different slant, for it is judgment - God coming and devouring, through the Lord Jesus Christ, His enemies.
Seventhly, we see from 1 Corinthians 15:51 that it takes place in the twinkling of an eye, which is 1/50th of a second. But in Revelation 1 and verse 7 we read of the coming in judgment that every eye shall see it - every eye shall see it! The fact of the matter is that this is going to be visible, when He comes in judgment, and in fact the implications are ongoing. As you read Revelation 6 through to 19, look at how many chapters there are about what will happen on this earth when God's wrath is poured out. Eighthly: rapture involves the church primarily - if you look at these passages of comfort, John 14, 1 Thessalonians 4, 1 Corinthians 15, they're all in relation to the church of Jesus Christ - but when you go into the book of Revelation from chapters 6 to 19, do you get the import of that? Chapters 6 to 19, the church is not mentioned, Israel is mentioned, the nations of this world are mentioned; because it's about Israel on the earth, not the church in heaven! It is important to see that distinction.
Those are the first two facts - these are shorter, and I hope you'll give me the time to deal with all of these tonight. Thirdly, another major fact in the New Testament is the imminence of the advent within the New Testament Scriptures, the imminence of the second coming, that means that it could happen at any time. That doesn't mean that things can't happen before it, but it does mean that certain things don't have to happen before it - do you see the difference? That is why, as you read verses in the New Testament about the second coming, you read words like this: 'look', 'watch', 'wait', 'be alert', 'be sober'. Let me give you a few: 1 Corinthians 1:7, Philippians 3:20 'For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ'. Listen to this one about deliverance from the tribulation, 1 Thessalonians 1 and verse 10: 'We wait for God's Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come'.
We could quote other verses about waiting and watching, Titus 2:13, Hebrews 9:28, 1 Peter 1:13, Jude 21 - now listen, if you had to wait for the Antichrist, or wait for what Jesus called the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel, or the installation of the Tribulation before the Lord Jesus Christ was going to come - would the command not be futile to wait and be ready, because in such an hour as ye know not your Lord doth come? This is what is called the 'blessed hope' - it would be some hope if we had to wait for all these things to happen before we could hope for it! I know there are certain things in scripture that men like the apostles knew was going to happen, but that is a personal knowledge given in personal revelation, we are looking to the word of God here tonight and the panorama of God's programme - as far as that is concerned, the second advent of the Lord is taught as imminent.
Fourthly, a time interval is required. This is why you will see that there are seven years - we'll look at that maybe next week when we look at the Tribulation - there is a time interval from the coming of the Lord to the air to the coming of the Lord to the earth, and it is necessary to facilitate events that are predicted within the word of God. Now here's one, in 2 Corinthians 5 we read that we must all, believers, stand before the judgment seat of Christ - the Greek word is 'bema' - it means a judgment for believers. Now if that is to happen, and after which in Revelation 19 we read that there is the marriage of the Lamb, and after the judgment seat of Christ when you get your rewards or you experience loss - whatever the case may be - you will then be fitted and given robes, robes which are the righteous act of the saints, the righteousnesses of the saints, from your own life I believe, and part of the reward perhaps, and you will be clothed in those and made ready to meet the Bridegroom in heaven for this great marriage ceremony. Now an interval is needed between the first coming in rapture, and the second coming in judgment if He's coming with His glorified saints, for the judgment seat to happen, for the marriage supper to happen, before He can bring them back to earth. So this idea that the rapture and the coming all happen together, you go up and then you go down, cannot happen if you understand these verses chronologically - there's too much to happen in between. I hope you can see that.
Fifthly - I could talk about other things there - but fifthly there is the nature of the Tribulation. I don't have time to go into all these verses, but the Bible teaches that this Tribulation period, this seven years between 6 and 8 there - that 'Great Tribulation' title should be all over there from 6 to 8. This time on the earth is equated with Daniel's 70th week in the book of Daniel. Now I know I'm blinding some of you with science, you don't understand any of this, but save to say that Daniel's 70th week - remember Daniel was a Jewish prophet - was spoken about for Israel's restoration and regeneration. You can go back as far as Deuteronomy 4 to read about this time, you can read about in Jeremiah 30, Ezekiel 20 and 22. In Daniel's 70th week the church of Jesus Christ, as we are, is not mentioned at all. The church is never mentioned as participating in Israel's time of trouble, or what in other places is called Jacob's trouble. This is synonymous with what we call the Great Tribulation, it's also called the Day of the Lord, it's also called the wrath of God, but wouldn't it be very strange if in Daniel's prophecy 69 of those weeks in the prophecy, which correspond to various years - we'll go into that maybe in another week - but if 69 of those weeks had all to do with Israel, and then all of a sudden the last week is now shared with a lot of Gentiles, whether they be redeemed or not. The fact of the matter is that Daniel 9 verse 24 tells us, turn with me to it: 'Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people', that's the Jews, 'and upon thy holy city', that's Jerusalem, 'to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy'.
There you have Israel, you have Jerusalem, you have Messiah - it's Jewish, it's a Jewish prophecy. This Great Tribulation is specifically for the Jewish people, to bring them back to God, it's for Israel! The tribulation is not for the church, and although the Lord said in John 6 'In the world ye shall have tribulation', it is a general type of tribulation that we all face day by day - but this is the Great Tribulation, for the purpose of God pouring His wrath onto the Jews, His earthly people. But I suppose the mirror image of that is also not just the fact that the nature of the tribulation proves that we will be raptured before it, but the nature of the church also would teach us this. This mystery of the rapture is not the only mystery in the New Testament, there's another mystery in Ephesians 3 which is the church itself - that Jews and Gentiles should be united in one body, and be brought together, and there'll be no Jew and no Gentile. This explains why the church should be translated to heaven, it's never mentioned in an Old Testament scripture dealing with the second coming - it's never mentioned, do you know why? Because the church isn't there in the Tribulation, and all these Old Testament prophecies are about the Tribulation for the Jews! Why would a mystery be mentioned if it was a mystery?
I hope I'm making some sense to you all tonight. The church alone has the promise that all believers will be taken - remember what the Lord said in John 14: 'to the Father's house', a translation not to the earth. Even this view at the end of the tribulation that you're raptured, and then you're changed while you're going up, and then you come down to earth - that's not taking you to the Father's house, is it? The nature of the church necessitates it - then seventhly: the work of the Holy Spirit. Turn with me to 2 Thessalonians 2 - this talks about the man of lawlessness, the man of sin, the son of perdition, the Antichrist - but it talks about him being held back, his influence being restricted. There is spoken of, in verse 6, a restrainer - verse 5: 'Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time'. Now another translation puts it like this: 'Now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time' - in this chapter to do with Antichrist there's something restraining Antichrist's influence in the earth. Now most Bible scholars, as far as I can ascertain, believe - and I do to - that this restraining influence is the Holy Spirit of the Living God, and specifically His indwelling ministry within His church. Now, do you know what it's saying here? The Antichrist cannot come to the fore if there is this restraining influence, so this restraining influence has to disappear - and the only way the Holy Spirit can disappear as He is in His church, is if the church disappears. That doesn't mean that the Holy Spirit won't be doing a work on the earth at that time, but it means that as the Holy Spirit came in the capacity of Pentecost, the way He had never been there before, He will go so that the tribulation can come. Do you see this?
Those are the facts, now let's in the remainder of the time look at the focus for living derived from the teaching of the rapture. Some practical implications with regards to this teaching, here is the first: there is a motive in this teaching for sanctification. What a motive there is! What do I mean? Well, at any hour - tonight! - the Lord Jesus can come. In 1 John 3:3, John said that one day we shall see Him as He is, and we shall be like Him at His coming, we shall be translated, we shall be changed - I wish I could talk about the resurrection body, it's just wonderful! But here's what John goes on to say: 'And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure'. Let's get past all this fascination about facts with regards to the second coming, and see the motivation there is in it to be holy - the Lord could come, and maybe the sin that you're dabbling in this very night, He'll catch you in it! How ashamed you will be.
The imminent return of the Lord Jesus is vitally connected with Christian living, and perhaps this is the reason why there is so little holiness in the church today - because there's so little watching and waiting for the coming of the Lord, some don't even believe He could come today, they're waiting on the Antichrist and seven years tribulation and all the rest. I'm not saying one view is more holy than the other, I think I cleared that up last week, but I'll tell you this: if Christians again were saying to one another 'Maranatha! Our Lord comes!', and were waiting and watching for His coming, do you not think we would be more holy in the light of it? How would we serve the Lord?
D. L. Moody, that great evangelist, who incidentally was also a pre-tribulationist, said: 'I never preach a sermon without thinking that possibly the Lord may come before I preach another'. Campbell Morgan said: 'I never begin my work in the morning without thinking that perhaps God may interrupt my work and begin His own; and I am not looking for death, I'm looking for Him'. Does it motivate you to holiness? It ought to! How long have we left? You might think you've another good 20 years in you - the Lord could be here tonight!
Does that not lead us on from a motivation for sanctification to an energy for soul winning and for service? I don't have time to go into this, but it's self-explanatory. In 1 Corinthians 7:29 Paul said in relation to marriage that 'the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none'. Paul said in Ephesians: 'Redeem the time, for the days are evil', the iniquity is already working of the Antichrist in our midst. The devil is champing at the bit, look at the things that are going on around us! There are still loved ones and friends and neighbours and work colleagues without Christ, should it not be an energy for our soul winning?
Then thirdly, the third focus for living derived from the teaching of the rapture, the third practical implication is this: comfort for the suffering and the sorrowful. You see, the Thessalonians were asking the question: 'Look, we believe in this imminent return' - let me tell you that they believed in it so much that some of them left work, and were all sitting about waiting on it! They believed in it, but they said: 'What if the Lord comes, my mother, my father, my husband, my wife, my brother, my sister they have died, they were Christians? You talk about this rapture and this coming, but what will happen to them?'. Paul says: 'Don't you worry, you'll not leave them behind, in fact they will go before you - you will not prevent them that sleep, but we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together to be with the Lord, with them in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort' - what a comfort! - 'one another with these words'. 'With the Lord forever' - we sing it in a hymn:
'Jesus is coming, the dead shall arise,
Loved ones shall meet in a joyful surprise:
Caught up together to Him in the skies,
Jesus is coming again!'.
Think what it will be like! C.A. Blackmore was one of America's first radio preachers, and on one occasion he was preaching on the second coming of our Lord, and he talked of the blessed hope - the trumpet sound - and he said: 'Dear friend, all your suffering and pain will be over. You'll have a new body, arms and legs that are missing will be replaced. Friend, we'll be like Jesus, you'll have a glorified body one day, some golden daybreak when Jesus comes back'. A few days later Blackmore received a letter from a woman listener, she said: 'Your message was such a blessing, I've been an invalid for almost 25 years, and sometimes I get so discouraged. I can hardly wait for the Lord to come, to think that I'll be able to walk again and there'll be no more heartaches there - thank you so much for your sermon'. Mr Blackmore's son, Carl, was a pianist and a soloist for the broadcast, and he too had been moved and touched by his father's message, and so he sat down one day at his piano and he wrote these words:
'Some glorious morning sorrows will cease,
Some glorious morning all will be peace,
Heartaches all ended, labour all done:
Heaven will open, Jesus will come!
Some golden daybreak Jesus will come,
Some golden daybreak, battles all won.
He'll shout the victory, break through the blue,
Some golden daybreak, for me, for you!'
I received an e-mail recently on the 14th March from a woman called Norma Braun from the USA. Her husband had been dying, and she was listening to our studies in first Corinthians, and this e-mail said these words: 'Another seed has been sown in hope, praise the Lord! On Friday afternoon Clay', her husband, 'was taken home to his Lord, and we rejoice. The last sermon he heard was yours on 'The Resurrection Body', and that sermon so prepared us for this change. In fact Kelly and I', her daughter, 'had gone into town to do some business and, leaving the hospice caring for Clay, returned after listening to your message in the car to find that Clay had quietly gone home. Those wonderful truths confirmed our hearts in rejoicing and praising' - that is what Paul meant when he said 'Comfort one another with these words!'.
'Earth, what sorrows lie before thee,
Unlike it in the shadows past;
The sharpest throes that ever tore thee,
Though the briefest and the last!
I see the shadows of the sunset;
I see the dread avenger's form;
I see the Armageddon onset,
But I shall be above the storm.
There comes the mourning and the sighing,
There comes the heart tear's heavy fall,
The thousand agonies of dying -
But I shall be above them all!'.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the second tape in his 'Crucial Questions About Christ's Return' series, titled "Rapture - Fact Or Fairytale?" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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