I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Will the Church Be Taken From This Earth?
It happens without fail. Every so often we hear on the news that the end of the world is coming and the Rapture of the Church will occur on such and such a date. These predictions have always ended up making the person a laughing stock and cause speculations to arise as to whether the Rapture is even something that Scripture teaches. While the Bible never gives a date, the teaching that the Body of Christ will be taken away or caught up from this earth by our Lord Jesus Christ to meet Him in the air indeed is there.
The fact is that the actual word is not in any of our English Bibles. However, the concept is in Scripture. The word "rapture" is actually from the Latin Bible. It is the word rapturo. The Greek word it translates is harpazo, which means to snatch or take away. Elsewhere it is used to and mean "caught up." And the Bible does teach us in I Thessalonians 4:13-18 that believers will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air.
It is interesting that the term "Trinity" is also not mentioned in Scripture, but most believers in the Lord Jesus Christ rightly accept the concept that there is one God, eternally existing in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Bible is full of evidence that this is the case. So we need to weigh the evidence for a rapture as well.
In order to totally understand this teaching, we need to see the distinction between Israel and the Church of this present age. There is a big difference between the prophecies of the return of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, in the Old Testament, and His return for the Church, spoken of by Paul, in the New. So first, let us look at Israel and the Church.
I. Israel and the Church are Distinct
The Old Testament clearly teaches that God has made many promises to the nation of Israel. Those promises include a land and a seed. This is seen at first with the call of Abraham in Genesis 12. In verses 2 and 3, God tells him: "And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great: and you shall be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless you, and curse them that curse you. And in you shall all families of the earth be blessed." Later, after Israel became a nation, God promised King David, in what has become known as the Davidic Covenant, that he would have a descendant to sit on his throne forever (II Samuel 7).
Throughout the prophets, even after Israel was judged for their sins by going into captivity, the Lord continued to promise Israel that He would once again bring Israel back, as a nation and put His Messiah upon the throne.
Some would say that these promises are, or will be, totally fulfilled in the Church of this present age. But that is not what Paul says in Romans 9-11. Let us look at Romans 11:25,26. It states:
"For I would not, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob."
So we see that God is not finished with His people, whom he foreknew. The prophetic Scriptures will be completely fulfilled. The blindness happened because Israel, as a nation, rejected her risen Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. So God has temporarily set them aside and brought in this present Age of Grace in which we now live. Paul calls it in Ephesians 3, a mystery which was not made known in other ages. It was hidden in God since the foundation of the world. It is a time when Jew and Gentile alike come to God through faith in Jesus Christ and are placed into one Body, or group called the Body of Christ (3:1-12).
This age in which we presently live was not part of prophecy. It has been going on for over 2000 years now. And it will continue until what Paul calls the "fullness of the Gentiles." The reason Paul says this is because, even though this present age allows Jews and Gentiles alike to come to God through Christ, it is mainly the age of the Gentiles, since mostly Gentiles are heeding the message of salvation. Most of the Jews are blind to the truth of the Gospel today, as they were then. The fullness will happen when the last member of the Body of Christ is saved. Then another mystery takes place. That is the Rapture of the Church.
II. The Rapture is Part of the Mystery
It is imperative that one day this age must come to an end and Israel must receive the promises of a land, a seed, a Messiah and a Kingdom, offered over and over again in the Old Testament. For this, Jesus has to return to earth, and his feet will actually touch the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:4). At Christ's ascension, it was told to his disciples that Christ would return to earth in the same manner in which he was taken from them. (Acts 1:9-11). This is all part of prophecy.
The Rapture, on the other hand, is called a mystery by Paul in I Corinthians 15:51-54. By mystery is meant something previously hidden, that is now revealed. And during this time, Jesus will not come back to earth. I Thessalonians 4:13-18 says rather that we will meet the Lord in the air. The dead in Christ will be taken first. Then those believers which are still alive will be taken next. After that, we will always be with the Lord.
III. There are Differences between His Return in the Air and to Earth
If it is true that the Rapture of the Church is a different event from the return of Christ to earth to establish His Millennial Kingdom, then there ought to be some distinctions that we can point out between the two. As it so happens, there are. They are as follows:
1. In the second coming that was prophesied there is no rapture predicted. The living saints will remain on this earth in their natural bodies to become part of the Millennial Kingdom (Acts 15:16 ; Revelation 5:10).
2. The reason Christ is to return to earth is to fulfill the promises and covenants made with the people of Israel. Romans 9-11 states that God is not finished with His people, but will fulfill all that He said He'd do for them. They are partially blinded today, but God will one day save all of Israel, as a nation (Romans 11:26,27). The coming in the air, on the other hand, is for the Body of Christ, where there is neither Jew nor Gentile. They are all one in Christ.
3. There are lots of prophecies about the judgements that will come before and with the second coming of Christ to this earth. For instance, Matthew 24:27-30 states: "For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together. Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory."
The difference with this and the Body of Christ being taken is that there is nothing but comfort and hope expressed with the coming in the air. And there is another difference as well.
4. As we saw in the verses above, the second coming of Christ to earth will be preceded by spectacular signs in the heavens and on the earth. Also look at Luke 21:25-28 and Revelation 6-19. There are no signs that will come to demonstrate the return of Christ in the air. I Thessalonians 4 indicates that it will be in a split second, in the twinkling of an eye. It doesn't seem like the ungodly will even know what happened. But if you look at Revelation 1:7, it says that every eye will see Him.
5. A final distinction that we can see between the two returns of Christ is that in the coming in the air, the living saints will have their physical bodies changed into immortal bodies, without going through death. As we stated earlier, the living saints at Christ's return to earth will enter the Millennial Kingdom in their physical bodies. Of course, the curse will be lifted from nature. Man will enjoy long life during that period (Isaiah 65:20).
IV. The Imminency of Christ's Return for the Church
The coming of Christ in the air is clearly a distinct time in future events. Since there are no prophecies that predict it, then there do not have to be any prophecies fulfilled in order for it to occur. Theologians call this the imminency of His return. In other words, it is an event that can take place at any moment. It could happen before you finish reading this article, or it could happen a hundred years from now. The only thing that has to take place before the coming of Christ in the air is the completion of the Body of Christ. And God is the sole person that knows when that will be. But if you are Christ's, through faith in His death, burial, and resurrection, it is something to look forward to, and not to dread. Every generation of Christians has had the hope that Christ will return without us having to face death. But it is also a time when we will see our saved loved ones that have gone on before. It will be a glorious time.
Much more could be said about the Rapture of the Church. However, I trust that enough information has been given to show that the Rapture is a special time in history that all believers in our Lord today should be anticipating. It is a time of great celebration when we will see Jesus and live with him forever, along with fellow members of the Body of Christ. In this day and age in which there is much unrest in the world, it is good to know that our Lord still has everything under control. We can indeed comfort one another with the hope of the Rapture.
One of the many good things about our Lord is that He has never made a promise that He hasn't kept in the past. And so we can rely on Him to keep His promises for our future. Whether those promises be to national Israel, or to the Body of Christ, God will bring them to pass. The Rapture is a major promise given to believers of this age and it is as sure of happening as the events of yesterday's news. It is a wonderful thing to belong to a God who is the great promise keeper. And I for one, am looking forward to meeting Him in the air one day. I want to spend eternity with Him and share that eternity with all who love Him and look forward to His coming. Praise God for the Rapture!
© 2011 Jeff Shirley
Jeff Shirley (author) from Kentwood, Michigan on August 01, 2011:
Thanks Lifegate. It is certainly a fascinating subject and one not always understood. I am glad that you did the series in your Sunday School. Christians need to know about the glorious future that awaits each believer. It is a source of hope and encouragement. God bless.
William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on August 01, 2011:
We just went through a series in Sunday School on the rapture, 2nd coming, Jew vs. church, etc. Can't wait for the next hub! Keep it coming, Brother!