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TableTalk: ‘The Rapture?’

09/02/2021

TableTalk: ‘The Rapture?’

Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

TableTalk at Ballymacashon.

Is there such a thing as ‘The Rapture of the Church?’ What do those Christian believers, who describe themselves as ‘pre-millennialists or dispensationalists’ actually believe, and can we explore the historic Reformation position of the Christian Church, and gain an understanding more in alignment with the biblical text?

What does it mean when Paul distinguishes between Jesus ‘Coming for his saints’ and Jesus ‘Coming with his saints?’  Are these two separate events, seven years apart, or two sides of the one eschatological coin? 

We look at the ‘Dispensationalist Rapture’ and the Reformed/A-millennialist view, of the second coming of Christ, in the context of the General Resurrection of the Dead, at the Last Day.

Recording the Podcast for this Lesson

1 The Dispensationalist Rapture

Dispensationalists – and it’s hard to generalise, for they do differ – believe that there will be a day in the future when Christ will return, for his saints, – that is the rapture,  Christians will be taken to be with the Lord, and unbelievers will be left behind.  They often quote the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:40-42  Jesus was talking about the end times, and we’ll look specifically at this passage in our next lesson on TableTalk.  

TO LISTEN TO THIS LESSON AS A PODCAST, CLICK THIS LINK

For those who are left behind, there is the prospect of seven years of tribulation, as the antichrist takes control of the world.  The Jews feature prominently in dispensationalist theology, and some so-called Tribulation Jews come to Christ, (yes  that’s after the ‘Rapture’) and they are mercilessly persecuted by the antichrist.  At the end of seven years the Lord again returns, – this time WITH his saints, and he wages war against the antichrist, what they conceive to be the Battle of Armageddon.  Centred on the Plain of Megiddo, it’s a bloody battle, a cataclysmic conflict.  But Christ and his saints are victorious, and with antichrist defeated and the devil bound, Christ sets up his millennial kingdom for a thousand years on earth, a period that ends with the release of Satan, a final battle and the Great White Throne of Judgement.  Now you will have noticed in that short summary, the distinction between Christ coming FOR HIS PEOPLE and coming WITH HIS PEOPLE.  Understanding that distinction, it seems to me is crucial to understanding the dispensationalist rapture doctrine. Let’s explore that distinction

  • Coming FOR.  In John 14:1-6, Jesus is speaking to his disciples in the Upper Room, in the week before his crucifixion.  He tells that that he is going to leave them, but that they should not be worried about that, for he is going away in order to prepare for them, to establish for them an eternal home, a mansion in glory.  He gives them a distinct promise, – ‘If I go, I will come again, and receive you unto myself…”. He did go, – he ascended into heaven, and in order to fulfil his promise, re-stated in Acts 1: 11   Jesus must return, specifically to receive his waiting people, and take them to their home in heaven.  So, argues the dispensationalist, there MUST be a rapture at the end of the church age, in which Jesus will come, FOR his people.
  • Coming WITH.  This seems to be what Paul is writing to the Thessalonian saints about, in 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13  Pay attention to that last phrase.  He is coming WITH his saints.  Dispensationalists place this coming, which they sometimes call Christ’s ‘REVELATION’ seven years after the Rapture, following the Great Tribulation.

There is much to agree with the Premillennialists about.  We all believe that Jesus will surely return.  We agree that Jesus will come for his people and we agree that Jesus will come with his people.  Yet there is a difference between Dispensationalist or Premilennial  theology and the Reformed understanding of the second coming, and that difference is in the ORDER and the CHRONOLOGY – the TIME-GAP between these two aspects of the Lord’s return.  Let’s see then:-

2 The Comfort of the Lord’s Return.

We have learned that the last day on this earth, the culmination of history, will be when the Lord Jesus returns, that there will be the resurrection of the dead and the judgement day will have come.  It’s a simple understanding of how this world will end, and we call it ‘The General Resurrection of the Dead.’  We found evidence for it in John 5:24-30, where we are specifically told that Jesus will come to raise both the wicked and the righteous dead.  Esp. V28  So, how can we understand the ‘Rapture’ with its ‘COMING FOR’ and ‘COMING WITH’ dimensions in the light of the fact that on that Day there will be one single resurrection, before endless eternity?  Because this is about ‘sequencing and timing’ we must closely examine 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18.  Now pay strict attention to the text:-

  1. Firstly Jesus comes with his saints. V14-15 In 1st Thessalonians, this clearly happens FIRST.  God will bring, with Jesus, those who are already in heaven with him. They will come first, for Paul instructs the Thessalonians that those believers who are still alive at His coming will not precede the dead in Christ.  Jesus comes WITH his saints. 
  2. Then Jesus comes for his saints.  THEN, when those saints who have come from heaven with the Lord, have been reunited with their new resurrected bodies, the living saints will join them in the resurrections.  V17  

So, there will be a great shout, the voice of an archangel, and the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, and the Lord shall appear, with the souls of his saints who have gone before, they are reunited with their bodies, as the great resurrection of the dead takes place, and as those resurrected bodies rise to meet the Lord in the air, the living saints are caught up together with them.  So, in this ONE climactic event, Jesus comes with his saints and for his saints.  How big a gap is there between WITH and FOR parts of this event?  The twinkling of an eye.  It will happen so quickly that it will be humanly imperceptible.  It is two aspects of the one event, like two sides of the one coin.

Finally, there’s two more aspects of this second coming that we discover in 1st Thessalonians 4.

  1. It is not a secret rapture.  It’s anything but secret.  It’s noisy and it’s loud and visible.  There won’t be any instances of taxi drivers suddenly vanishing while at the wheel, and no-one being aware what happened.  Everyone will know, saint and sinner alike.  Secondly, 
  2. It is only speaking about Christians.  Now notice carefully that this passage is about believers.  It finishes with the words,   18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.  There is no comfort for unbelievers in this text.    They too will be gone, but sadly to another place.

So, do we believe in the Rapture?  In essence yes, – we just don’t call it that, – because of its dispensationalist connotations.  But we do believe that Jesus will come again, with his church, and for his church, on that great resurrection day!  

© BobMcEvoy February 2021 

From → Eschatology

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