|vol 3 no 11||April 19, 1998|
TO MOST OF US THE RAPTURE of the saints is a religious topic that seems rather benign and academic in nature. there are others, however, who have a more urgent attitude toward it. I recently met one fellow who was on somewhat of a crusade with regard to the rapture. He drove into the Food City parking lot Friday afternoon with the following message taped to the window of his car:
Only in the Bible belt !
I had already begun the writing of this article when I saw Brian drive up and I had to ask about his sign. He proceeded to tell me that he was disturbed because of all the Christians who had accepted the convenient belief that the rapture of the saints was to take place before the great tribulation (the pre-tribulation view), thus providing escape from persecution. He believed that such a position encouraged spiritual indifference and immorality. His was a personal crusade to get Christians to wake up to the need for righteous living and the folly of thinking that eternal fellowship with God could be achieved so cheaply. (He made some good points!) Brian would be considered a post-tribulationist (the belief that the rapture will come after the period of the great tribulation, thus requiring Christians to suffer, sacrifice and remain faithful during times of persecution before enjoying their eternal reward).
It was back in the early '70's when talk about the rapture became so popular among denominationalists. These were the same folks who were talking about separate resurrections for the just and unjust, a literal 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth and Old Testament prophesies being fulfilled in virtually every current political event (religious conspiritorialists, no less). Then there were all the cartoons and jokes that seemed to add to the frivolity of the subject. I therefore concluded that the rapture was just another part of the groundless premillennial speculation. However, the rapture is actually a scriptural concept. Even though the Bible speaks of it in different terms, the fact of the rapture is set forth in God's word.
I often tell pre-millennialists that I have no particular axe to grind when it comes to what Jesus has in store for his saints when this life is over. Our duty is to remain faithful unto death. If we do so, we will receive the crown of life (Rev 2:10). I have no particular problems with the idea of a literal 1,000 year reign of peace, happiness, holiness, and good weather here on earth. The idea seems pleasant enough. It is just that there are some stubborn facts in the Bible that don't jell with such a theory. A major false implication of a literal 1,000 year reign is that the kingdom of God has not yet been established. There are numerous others. When false doctrines , come up, such as these that in some way contradict what has been revealed we must speak out in defense of the truth.
With regard to the rapture, the only place in the New Testament where a "rapture" is clearly referred to in is 1 Thess 4:17. It is translated "caught up" in most English versions, and is also used in reference to Phillip being "caught away" with the Spirit in Acts 8:39 and also with reference to Paul in 2 Cor 12:2,4 where he was "caught up" to the third heaven.
The word rapture is from the Latin Vulgate rendering, and comes from a Latin verb meaning to seize or to snatch.
From the context of 1 Thess 4 it appears that the "rapture" or being "caught up" has reference to those saints who are still living when Christ returns. Following their actual resurrection the saints will be caught up in the air with Christ and the saints who have already died. 1 Thess 4:17 states:, "After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air." (NIV).
As with most verses that are taken out of context by pre-millennialists, much is made from little. The idea of a rapture becomes much bigger in pre-millennial theories than it actually is as presented in Scripture. For example references in Matthew 24:40,41 to individuals being taken out of fields and from their grinding at the hand mill while others are left is described as a "rapture" scene. Thus , the pre-millennialists say much more about a rapture than the Bible does, but as long as we adhere to what the Bible actually says it becomes easy to identify where the false teaching comes into the picture. This is true with regard to the rapture as well as any other subject.