The Apostle Peter identifies “heaviness through manifold temptations” as a reason to greatly rejoice. It is necessary for each of us to be constantly tested in our faith. What is the purpose? “The appearing of Jesus Christ.”
Obviously, Peter, the preeminent apostle, was waiting for the appearing of Jesus Christ.
Waiting for Jesus, therefore, should be as natural as drinking water and eating bread. Throughout the New Testament we meet waiting people.
Waiting for JesusWhen Jesus was eight days old, He was brought to the Temple. Luke 2:25 reports, “And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.”
Another person is mentioned, Anna the prophetess, in verse 38: “And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.”
They were waiting for the first coming of the Messiah. Collectively, however, Israel did not wait for nor notice her Messiah: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11).
In brief, this was His first coming.
The Second ComingAfter Jesus had ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives, we read in Acts 1:11, “…Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.”
Therefore, Jesus must literally and physically come to the Mount of Olives again.
Almost 500 years before the birth of Christ, the prophet Zechariah had this to say: “And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south” (Zechariah 14:4).
This had not been fulfilled at His first coming. Although the earth did quake after Jesus died on Calvary’s Cross, the Mount of Olives did not cleave in the midst thereof.
Besides, when we read the previous three verses, we notice that the nations of the world will gather against Jerusalem to battle, and the Lord will fight against those nations. Bible students know this speaks of the Battle of Armageddon, the final confrontation between light and darkness. We know this has not been fulfilled yet.
Where Must We Place the Rapture?This mysterious event known as the Rapture lies between the first and the second coming of Christ. Someone may object and say that the word “Rapture” is not mentioned in Scripture. That is true; the word Rapture does not appear in most of our English Bible translations. However, it is clearly taught in Scripture, as we will see later.
What Is Not the Rapture?Before we go into detail on our subject of discussion, “The Timing of the Rapture,” let us first determine what is not the Rapture.
Matthew 24 and Luke 21 are the great end-time chapters, where Jesus utters profound prophecies addressed to the Jews in the land of Israel.
For example, in Matthew 24:29 we read, “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.” This will occur “after the tribulation,” not before and not in the middle thereof.
What comes next? “And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (verse 31).
Many scholars identify this as the Rapture of the Church. Yet when one reads this carefully, one realizes it is not.
We note that in Matthew 24 it says, “he shall send his angels,” but when it speaks of the Rapture, it clearly states in 1 Thessalonians 4:16: “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout.” Thus we have two different events: 1) His literal coming to the Mount of Olives, followed by the supernatural gathering of His elect, and 2) His coming in the clouds of heaven, not touching planet Earth, to gather His bride, when we shall “meet the Lord in the air.”
The Rapture of the Church
Let us now deal with four important issues:
1. What is the Rapture?
2. Why is there a Rapture?
3. When will the Rapture take place?
4. Signs of the Rapture
1. What Is the Rapture?The Rapture, as mentioned, is hidden within the Second Coming of Christ. We may take the liberty to use some of the Old Testament Scriptures that are particularly targeting His physical Second Coming, to illustrate the necessity for being prepared.
Escape for Thy LifeThe following warnings were addressed to Lot in Genesis 19:17 and 22: “And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed. Haste thee, escape thither; for I cannot do any thing till thou be come thither. Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar.”
Lot was ordered to escape. Why? Because God could not destroy the righteous with the wicked. When Abraham pleaded with the Lord regarding Sodom, the Lord said, “I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.” Actually, God was hindered in His plan, “I cannot do anything till thou be come hither.”
Here we have an early symbolic sign of the Rapture: escape from destructive judgment.
Jesus Himself refers to Sodom and Gomorrah and to the times of Noah in Luke 17:27-29: “They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.”
When we ask the question, what is the Rapture, we have the answer: the Rapture is the removing of the righteous from planet Earth to allow judgment to proceed.
The Absence of PeaceSomething most horrendous will take place on earth, which is prophesied in Revelation 6:4: “And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another; and there was given unto him a great sword.”
Peace will be taken away from earth. We all know that there has been no peace on earth since Cain killed his brother Abel. Jesus actually told us that there would be wars and rumors of wars, but in the midst of the chaos of this world, between conflicts, catastrophes and upheavals, there is an island of peace: it is the true Church of Jesus Christ, the members of His Body. They are the only ones who have peace, for the Bible declares, “He is our peace.”
Jesus promised this peace to us, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). This speaks of the true Church of Jesus Christ, His Body. They are in this evil world, but they are not of it. This is not addressed to Churchianity or nationalistic Christianity; it is addressed to a very small group of people, who know what it means when Jesus says, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
In summary to our question, what is the Rapture, we answer: the removal of the Lord’s blood-bought Church to allow the process of the Great Tribulation to take effect.
2. Why Must the Church Be Raptured?We already alluded to the answer. The removal of the Church is necessary so God can fulfill His righteousness, “the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” In Lot’s time, God was hindered to fulfill His righteous judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah, because Lot lingered to escape for his life. The angels of the Lord actually had to use force to remove righteous Lot and his family outside the city, “And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the LORD being merciful unto him: and they brought him forth, and set him without the city” (Genesis 19:16).
Often, we have the notion that when we become believers, “old things have passed away… all things are become new” is applicable to our flesh and blood. That is far from the truth. The thing that has become new is the new person born within. The old one is destined to die. There is nothing good in it; nothing worth saving, not even repairing or restoring. The old man with all its vices must die. The “old Adamic nature” must be judged, “the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4).
The Old and the NewJohn clarifies this dual personality. Our old person is subject to sin, “He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning” (1 John 3:8). This statement should make it clear that the devil has a legal right to our old nature, because there is nothing good in it. However, that’s not the end, and praise God it’s not, because God’s grace breaks through so that in the old nature, a new one is born, which is absolutely spotless and perfect: “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (1 John 3:9).
Again, why is the Rapture necessary? To separate us from our sinful flesh and blood. The Bible says, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.”
Light and SaltFurthermore, judgment unto destruction, such as will take place during the Great Tribulation, cannot take place unless the salt and the light is removed from planet Earth.
Jesus, after pronouncing the blessings in Matthew chapter 5, stated, “Ye are the salt of the earth,” and in verse 14, “Ye are the light of the world.”
This does not mean we become salt shakers or flashlights, identifying sins in others, but our very being as believers on earth is salt and light. We must never come to the erroneous conclusion that we are somewhat outstanding in this world. That’s not the case. We are insignificant, unnoticed people, often rejected, sometimes persecuted, and occasionally killed. That’s the small flock, saved by the blood of the Lamb; they have become eternal citizens.
How these believers manifest themselves on earth is revealed in Matthew 5:16: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” This is a profound statement, because it does not say we are to show our good works so people will see the light, but it says, show your light so people may see your works.
It lies in our nature to show off: even ministers of the Gospel, and workers in the kingdom of God, have the tendency to enumerate the things we have done, how God has blessed and prospered us, how we have been able to reach multitudes, etc. When the people of the world hear these things, they reject it, and remain in darkness. But when we let our light shine—and the only light we have is Jesus Christ and Him crucified—people will recognize our good works and, as a result, glorify our Father which is in heaven.
Known by the FruitsIn Matthew 7:20, Jesus says: “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”
Then He reveals a group of people who show off their works, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in they name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works” (verses 21-22). These people indeed were amazing miracle workers. They called Him, Lord Lord, they prophesied in His name, they cast out devils, and they did many wonderful works. How does the Lord answer them? “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (verse 23). There was no fruit, no salt, no light; actually, Jesus calls them workers of iniquity.
In summary, why must the Rapture take place? In order to separate true fruit from religious works.
3. When Will the Rapture Take Place?Let us heed the warning Jesus uttered in Matthew 24:44 again: “Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.” Although Jesus speaks to His people, the Jews, referring to His Second Coming (His physical descent on the Mount of Olives), it is also applicable to His Church because the preparation element, the readiness and waiting for Him are an essential part of His message.
We must not speculate, nor use mathematics to arrive at a certain day or hour. Instead, we are to be ready because He comes when “ye think not.”
When will the Rapture take place? Two things must occur:
1) The place must be prepared: “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” (John 14:2-3). We know that He has been gone for almost 2,000 years. Does He need all that time to prepare a place for His own? I do not know, but 1 Corinthians 2:9 gives us a clue: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” This type of glory cannot be imagined in any way, shape or form. It’s literally out of this world. We may conclude that Jesus left Jerusalem for heaven to prepare a place, and when He is done, He will come and fetch His own. 2) When Jesus has fulfilled the building of His Church, based on His statement, “I will build my church.” Most of us understand that when the Bible speaks of the Church, it does not refer to a denomination, an organization, a building, or a local church as we know it. There is no visible manifestation of the true Church on earth. The believers are the true Church. Several places in Scripture make this plain: “As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3), or Romans 16:5: “Greet the church that is in their house….”
The Real ChurchWhile the various organizations and denominations may have in their midst true members of the Church of Jesus Christ, the real Church is made up of born again believers only. The Church is His brethren, His friends, His Bride, His Temple, His Body.
The Apostle Peter defines the Church with these words: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). We are lively stones, which make up the spiritual house, being active as priests and offering up spiritual sacrifices unto God by Jesus Christ.
The Church dwells in God, and God dwells in the Church.
Real CitizenshipThe Apostle Paul confirms the adding of the Gentiles to the Church in Ephesians 2:19: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.”
That is a lesson many need to learn. The citizenship of the saints is really all that counts. It matters not which nation you are subject to or citizen of. It is virtually insignificant. One may belong to any of the 200 plus UN-recognized sovereign nations of the world, but in the end, it is all useless. Those of us who are proud of our nation, flag, national anthem, history and position in the world will be deeply ashamed of such things when Jesus comes.
In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul enumerates his advantages which, incidentally, none of us can touch: “Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee” (Philippians 3:5). He indeed could state, “I am proud to be an Israeli, proud to be of the tribe of Benjamin, the first one to be integrated into the royal tribe of Judah. Proud to be a Hebrew, the people to whom God spoke directly, the nation from which the prophets came.” As a Pharisee, he belonged to one of the proudest groups in Israel’s religious class, yet in verse 8, he makes this statement: “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” All the things he could have been proud of, as countless nationalistic Christians are today, he summarizes with four words, “count them but dung.”
This statement should help us to realize our position in Christ, our heavenly citizenship, instead of continuously indulging in perpetual self-applause about our nation. We are, in reality, “strangers and foreigners.” If you don’t feel like a “stranger and foreigner” in your country, then you should allow for the possibility that you are not following Christ but Churchianity.
Citizens of HeavenPaul continues: “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 20). The Church of Jesus Christ is not built on a political philosophy, or some kind of old constitution; the Church is built upon the existing foundation of the apostles (that’s the New Testament), the prophets (that’s the Old Testament), and Jesus Christ the Chief Cornerstone.
Now we come back to the spiritual house Peter wrote about and the Apostle Paul confirms: “In whom all the building fitly framed together growth until a holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2: 21-22).
When will the Rapture take place? When our heavenly place is prepared and when the Church on earth is complete. That can happen at any moment. When the last lively stone is added to this spiritual habitation, the Church of Jesus Christ will be removed from planet Earth.
Whenever the surprise element is taken out of the equation, then something is wrong; it’s not biblical. For example, the Mid and Post Tribulation teaching of the Rapture is immediately exposed as an error because it takes away the surprise elements. In plain words, when I believe in the Mid or Post Tribulation Rapture, I am not believing that Jesus could come back at any time; that violates the principles and the spirit of the teaching of Holy Scripture.
4. The Signs of the RaptureThis statement may cause some confusion, because we have already mentioned that the Rapture could take place at any time, without any sign preceding it. However, when we read the whole Scripture collectively and take notice of the various indications of the Lord’s coming, we should be alerted to the nearness of Christ’s return. Hebrews 10:25 reads: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” Romans 13:11 says: “And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.” This was written by the Apostle Paul almost 2,000 years ago. Timewise, the coming of the Lord has progressed. Thus we see again, the spirit of waiting and expectation for the coming of the Lord was alive and well at the very beginning of the Church.
The Return of the Fig TreeWe already spoke about Matthew 24:31—the gathering of the elect. The one thing it does not mention is the place where the angels gather together the elect. It simply says, “gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
But then comes something significant, a parable: “Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh” (verse 32). Why does the Lord picture the fig tree without the fruit as a parable, immediately after speaking of the gathering of His elect?
First, we must realize that the fig tree provided shade for the Israelites. It was a symbol of rest, blessing, and accomplishment.
Under the rulership of Solomon, when peace and prosperity prevailed, we read: “And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon” (1 Kings 4:25).
Indeed, the fig tree, with its broad leaves, served as an excellent cover from the heat of the day. But we may ask, why is no fruit mentioned? We find the answer in Mark 11:13-14: “And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.”
The fig tree, as we said, is a symbol of covering. This was true back at the beginning in the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve fell into sin, it says in Genesis 3:7, “…and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.” The fig leaves served as a sin covering.
Jesus approached the fig tree full of leaves. He expects fruit and, quite unreasonably, we may say, because it was not the season for figs. It would certainly be unreasonable to expect peaches in the middle of January in South Carolina, or pecans in the height of summer. Every tree and, for that matter, all vegetation is designed for certain seasons in certain areas.
Here, the fig tree quite correctly shows only leaves, but no fruit. What is the message? The Lord awaits fruit at any time. He expects us to have the “fruits” of waiting; He insists that we are ready at any time. That is a hidden sign for the Rapture.
Who Is the Fig Tree?Doubtless, this is referring to Israel under the Law, which brought forth no fruit, or as we read in Galatians 2:16: “For by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”
Resurrection of the Fig TreeWe learn from this parable of the fig tree that Jesus begins where He ceased to work for Israel. He cursed the fig tree, and that was the last miracle He did in relationship to Israel.
Before He cursed the fig tree, Jesus prophesied of the destruction of the Temple, Jerusalem, and the nation of Israel. In 70 A.D., the Roman legion came and indeed destroyed the Temple, Jerusalem, and the independent nation of Israel came to end.
Jesus followed the will of the Father: He was arrested and condemned, crucified, buried, and arose on the third day. Then for almost 2,000 years, Israel did not exist as a nation.
The Budding of the Fig TreeMany theologians, even in modern times, have rejected the interpretation that the Jews will come back to the land of Israel to establish a nation on their soil. The reason given is that Israel needs to believe in Jesus first before anything can be fulfilled. Other theologians totally spiritualize the resurrection of the land of Israel and the return of the Jewish people by applying these promises to the Church.
But such interpretation requires the deliberate ignoring of the geographic description, including the names such as Zion, Jerusalem, Mount of Olives, Israel, etc.
They point to Scriptures such as Matthew 23, where Jesus speaking of Jerusalem says, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (verse 38), and then makes the statement in verse 39: “For
I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” Therefore, the logical conclusion is that only after the Jews accept the Lord, will prophecy be fulfilled. Thus, they say the political identity of Israel in our time has no validity.
Such statements are rather shortsighted because Jesus is speaking to the Jews in Jerusalem, and in Jerusalem, they will say, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” That means they first must return to Jerusalem and the land of Israel before that conversion takes place.
The Desolate LandFor the Jews to return to the land of Israel was all but impossible for the last two millennia. There is ample documentation showing that Israel was a desert-like area, useless for agriculture and unable to support but a few Bedouins and some religious institutions.
Yet, the promise is crystal clear that God will bring back the Jews to the land of Israel. For example, Ezekiel 34:13: “And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country.”
But how would the agricultural situation change? “Therefore, ye mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord GOD: Thus saith the Lord GOD to the mountains, and to the hills, to the rivers, and to the valleys, to the desolate wastes, and to the cities that are forsaken, which became a prey and derision to the residue of the heathen that are round about” (Ezekiel 36:4). These verses clearly identify the land of Israel as “desolate wastes.”
Then the reason for speaking to the topographical land is given in verse 8: “But ye, O mountains of Israel, ye shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to my people of Israel; for they are at hand to come.”
Although rainfall has not increased to any measurable level in the land of Israel, and no new sources of water have been discovered, we can’t deny the fact that Israel today is agriculturally self-supporting. Was it miraculous? Was it a supernatural intervention by God? Was it the Jews’ innovation to make use of available resources?
I think it’s all of the above.
The Required Change of the PeopleLater in that same chapter, we read something profound: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh” (verse 26). This indicates that the Jew who comes to the land of Israel will receive a new heart and a new spirit.
Those of us who have gone to Israel often, can testify that the Israelis are not to be compared to the Jews back home, those who are still in the Diaspora. The Jews in Israel who became Israelis were changed, with a new heart and a new spirit. They have become what the world never believed they could, farmers and soldiers. It would not be exaggerating to say they are the best in the world today.
“Thy Spirit”But that’s not the end. God’s aim is to restore the land for the people, and then restore the people to become His people: “And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them” (verse 27).
The prophet Jeremiah spoke of the New Covenant: “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31). This covenant is based on the Spirit of God, which becomes quite evident two verses later: “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (verses 33-34).
The Church Must Be ChangedThe Church too must be changed; we are on our way to the great gathering in the presence of our Lord.
We, the Church of Jesus Christ, the lively stones, His Body, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, are awaiting completion.
It will take place at the same moment the last one has been added to the Church. Then will be fulfilled what is written in 1 Corinthians 15:51-55: “Behold, I show 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? Oh grave, where is thy victory?”
Changing of the GuardWhen the Church has been removed from planet Earth, Israel will stand alone, at least temporarily, until God calls the two witnesses and seals the 144,000 from the twelve tribes of the children of Israel.
The fact that God has begun the regathering of the Jews to the land of Israel is the great end-time sign for the Church; that the changing of the guard will take place. That means, when the Church is gone, God will directly and supernaturally intervene in the affairs of Israel. Israel collectively is still awaiting the great change, the rebirth of the whole nation, the greatest event in all of Israel’s history.
The Church must be raptured in order for Israel to be saved, as is documented in Romans 11:25-26: “…blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved….”
What are we, the true Church of Jesus Christ, to do in view of this great end-time sign, the return of the Jews to the land of Israel? The Apostle Paul concludes this chapter with these words: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
(TAKEN FROM MC MAGAZINE: PART 1 MC 8/13, PART 2 9/12)