By Arthur Melanson
"If Jesus came back in 70 A.D. then what
about the Rapture? Well, it took place on schedule just as God, through
Paul, said it would.
Saints who were alive at the Lord's return were 'caught up' to meet Jesus in the air. They became, without passing through physical death, residents of the consummated kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. God's restoration plan for man was complete, and physically alive believers were included."
If Jesus came back in 70 A.D. then what about the rapture? Fair question. In this study we will look at some Biblical answers.
If you are not familiar with our ministry, or our teaching, the opening sentence may puzzle you. The author holds to the preterist view of the end-times. That is, all Biblical prophecies, including the second advent, are already fulfilled. Jesus taught in the Gospels that He would return before the generation then living passed away. We believe Him! (Mt. 24:34; Mk. 9:1.)
These things took place in 70 A.D. God destroyed the world that then was (the world of Judaism) and brought in the new heaven and new earth (the kingdom of God). Jesus, speaking prophetically, said, "For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled" (Lk. 21:22.) [The Bible study, The Second Coming - Postponed or Fulfilled? is available from this ministry.]
The rapture theory as taught today, largely due to the premillennialists, is distorted beyond Biblical recognition. Every Christian of my acquaintance (and the author includes himself) was fed false ideas about the rapture before being old enough to discern true from false. Babes eat the food put in their mouths; in the case of the rapture, it was not the sincere milk of the word. Thus, every Christian must unlearn bad teaching before coming to the knowledge of the truth
We do not condemn those men of God who teach with all sincerity the pre-tribulation rapture theory, they have been deceived too. It is time, however, to get back to a Scriptural base and discard those things that the Bible does not teach. The popular version of the rapture is one of those things.
Let's look at the "rapture" passage as given in Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians (I Corinthians 15:51,52 holds similar verses ):
The Thessalonian Christians were concerned about the fate of those saints who had fallen asleep (died). They needed comforting and teaching about events at the second coming of Jesus and the resurrection. You see, the truth is, the catching away of the living saints is only a small part of the greater resurrection.
The Tail That Wags the Dog
Today, the rapture theory is so removed from it Scriptural context, so blown out of proportion that it has become the tail that wags the dog. Literalism rules the day, and the true meaning of Paul's Spirit inspired message goes begging.
The "popular version" goes something like this: All events written in the book of Revelation are future events. Seven years (some say 3 1/2 years) before the second coming, all Christians on the earth will be secretly whisked away to heaven. Automobiles driven by Christians will suddenly be driver less; planes piloted by Christians will be pilot less, dentists drilling Christian teeth will be patient less (I think you get the idea). Dead saints also will come out of their graves at this time in the first resurrection.
Then will come the Great Tribulation when all the horrible things in the book of Revelation are poured out on this ungodly planet. Christ returns after this period bringing all Christians with Him. Every eye will see Him sitting on a fleecy cloud (this is most important), and He will defeat all worldly armies gathered to prevent His return. Then comes the setting up of the kingdom age (Millennium) for 1000 years where natural human beings and glorified human beings mingle.
At this time God will restore the nation of the Jews, re-institute the Law of Moses, and rebuild the temple where the blood from animal sacrifices will again flow. The Church, you see, was only a parenthetical stop gap unseen by the Old Testament prophets. God's real concern and desire is for the seed of Abraham after the flesh, i.e., nationalistic Jews. (This is a classic example of a common error - making a type be the fulfillment of itself.)
At the end of the kingdom age (never mind that the Bible says His kingdom has no end) there is a Satanic revolt which Christ puts down. Then follows the second resurrection of the dead, the last judgment, and the destruction of the earth with fire and the literal new heaven and the literal new earth are revealed (Please don't mention the words of Jesus where He said, "My kingdom is not of this world").
Now the BIG event that triggers all these things is THE RAPTURE! It is the "next event on God's prophetic calendar." That's why we have movies about THE RAPTURE, books featuring THE RAPTURE, songs about THE RAPTURE, and sermons (oh boy, do we have sermons) on THE RAPTURE. The tail wags the dog.
The preachers on electronic media (radio and television) are special abusers of this fanatical "rapturism." Some, we suspect, are deeply into chicanery as they preach: "THE RAPTURE" could come at any moment, folks. God could catch us away in the clouds before this Bible conference is over. What will happen to your money then? The Antichrist will get it, that's what. Do you want to leave your money for the Antichrist?" I will leave the rest to your imagination as the collection baskets appear.
The Word of Men
What's wrong with the above scenario? It never came from the word of God, but from the mind of men. Nobody ever heard of a pre-tribulation rapture theory before 1830. In theological circles it is a real "Johnny come lately."
Unfortunately many swallowed the new teaching, and it became popularized by the annotated Scofield Reference Bible and many books by premillennialists. Today it has become largely discredited, and former adherents have left and are leaving in droves. In England, where the theory originated, it has all but vanished. Still, in America, the specter lives on, and at the local church level it persists strongly. It is at this level that God's children go astray. They do not wander away themselves, but they are LED astray.
Chaff Instead of Wheat
The pre-tribulation rapture theory takes Biblical wheat out of the mouths of God's children and leaves them choking on the chaff of men. The entire system is a premier example of what men can bring forth when they walk in the flesh rather than the Spirit. To make matters worse, many who preach this end-time nonsense conspire together to ostracize and persecute those who do not agree with them. One dear Brother in Christ came to do a rich series of studies that led him away from futurism as a direct result of such "Christian tactics."
How, then, are we to understand the rapture? What does the Holy Spirit, through Paul, want us to understand by the term "caught up?" The concept is Biblical as we see in the text from I Thessalonians, so we know there are Biblical answers to these questions.
One of the great joys and benefits of coming to the preterist view of eschatology is the excellent 20/20 hindsight it provides. When the author hears a fanciful end-time guess, it is always fun to say, "Well, it didn't happen that way." This is a real conversation stopper, and it gives one a chance to testify to the words of Jesus. There are many passages in the Gospels where Jesus promises to return before the generation then living passes away.
This hindsight serves us well here. The literalists tell us that when the rapture takes place millions of Christians will vanish from the earth. "Well, it didn't happen that way." We know Jesus returned in 70 A.D. There was vengeance on the keepers of the vineyard, and the kingdom passed to those who honored the Lord of the vineyard by loving His Son. Resurrection, judgment, New Jerusalem - all accomplished, BUT there was not a mass vanishing act by living Christians.
Spiritual Senses Needed
Paul never meant for us to receive his teaching with a literal mind. He spoke of spiritual things and wanted Christians to understand with spiritual faculties. If Paul lived today and saw what we have done with his passage on being "caught up," I believe we would again hear the words, "And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ . .. for you are carnal." (I Corinthians 3:1,3a)
A Bible dictionary I have owned since seminary days has this to say: "Believers who are living at the return of Christ will be transformed without passing through death (I Cor. 15:51,52, I Thess. 4:17). This 'rapture' or being 'caught up' to meet the Lord in the air is Paul's way of describing the experience of transition into the new redeemed order of Resurrection life without passing through death.(1)
The above explanation from my old Bible Dictionary is right on target. When you were born again you were translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son. Was there a physical change? Was there any material manifestation? Of course not, but that didn't mean your rebirth wasn't real or important.
In your rebirth you underwent a change of kingdoms - a change so great that it had eternal consequences. And yet there was nothing perceptible to the visible world of sound and sight. You could not "prove' your rebirth by a change of color, change of height, or any geographical change. Your rebirth simply could not be confirmed by this world and its citizens.
A Secret You Should Know
Now, here's a secret. Much of what God does, and we are speaking of those things that have enormous spiritual significance, are done beyond the witness of this fleshly world. The 'rapture' or the 'caught up' to meet the Lord in the air is one of those things.
The carnal thinking of men would have the whole world witness the mysterious disappearance of all the Christians. They move from the sublime to the ridiculous. Remember the Scripture: "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (I Corinthians 2:12,14)
New Sounds From Old Symbols
The I Thessalonians 4:13-18 passage is full of symbolic language. Let me give you an example showing the imagery of the trumpet from the Old Testament Scriptures: And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: "Make two silver trumpets for yourself; you shall make them of hammered work; you shall use them for calling the assembly and for directing the movement of the camps. When you go to war in your land against the enemy who oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, and you will be remembered before the LORD your God, and you will be saved from your enemies. Also in the day of your gladness, in your appointed feasts, and at the beginning of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; and they shall be a memorial for you before your God: I am the LORD your God.' (Numbers 10:1,2,9,10)
These verses from Numbers show that the trumpet called and directed the people. When our New Testament says, "For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with . . . the trumpet of God," we should see this as symbolic of a gathering. God never meant for literalism to spoil the spiritual meaning. Matthew also uses the symbol of the trumpet in the twenty-forth chapter of his Gospel.
Clouds speak of God's power and presence at work to affect a particular task; in our passage it is the resurrection. Air, in Biblical language, speaks of a spiritual environment populated by personalities without f;leshly bodies. We could go on, but surely the reader appreciates that the rich language of symbolism conveys much truth with few words. But consider this: How much do we lose when we insist upon bringing literal interpretation to symbolic imagery?
God's Children Deserve Better
When we insist on bringing literal interpretation to symbolic language we reduce God's message to the ridiculous. Look at what we have done with the rapture. If we can rise above the carnality of the literal, we will understand the true meaning of God's word. If not, we are condemned to wallow in the absurd interpretations to which literalism leads us. God's children
Paul's teaching on the resurrection in I Thessalonians and I Corinthians is rich instruction for the church: Behold, I tell 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 trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (I Cor. 15:51,52) It is interesting to note that dead are raised, but the living are changed. According to the Thessalonian passage, this change takes place spiritually, i.e., in the 'air.'
The explanation from my old Bible Dictionary captures Paul's intent. It falls short, however, in this one particular: The writer fails to appreciate that what he calls 'the new redeemed order of resurrection life' is, in actuality, the consummated kingdom of God. One can easily forgive him, for he makes no pretense to write from the preterist point of view. It is fascinating to see, though, how close he comes to that truth with his clear interpretation of Paul's 'rapture references,' for the new redeemed order of resurrection life is part of God's completed restoration plan for man.
Rapture Error Widespread
The premillennialists confound and amplify the rapture error. They are not the only offenders, but the premillennialists commit the larger abuse because they separate the rapture from the second coming by a number of years. This non Biblical act transfers the emphasis from the second advent to the rapture. The end-time spotlight now focuses on the misplaced 'catching-up' end thus, the tail wags the dog.
Bringing carnal understanding to Paul's 'rapture language' is not the exclusive property of the premillennialists. Amillennialists and postmillennialists transgress also. While they disagree with the pre-tribulation rapture theory (with scorn in most cases), they, too, fail to bring spiritual acumen to Paul's accommodative language.
While seeing through the fallacy of 'rapture fever,' the majority still believe in a literal vanishing by living Christians at a still future second advent. Not all fall into this category, as witnessed by the author of my Bible Dictionary, but most do.
Realized Eschatology Forces Focus
Realized Eschatology, or the preterist position, forces the true meaning of Paul's words into proper focus. Recognizing the second coming and the consummation of God's kingdom as complete brings the student to the inescapable conclusion that Paul's teaching has a spiritual, not a literal application. This is progress.
In the author's experience there was an immediate, "Of course! Why didn't I see that before?" The new knowledge settled comfortably into its prepared niche. There are times when we know we make a tremendous breakthrough in our grasp of Scripture. This, for me, was one of those times.
Rising up out of the bonds of carnal interpretation into the light of the higher spiritual understanding is an exciting adventure.
The lines from an almost forgotten poem come back to me: "I slipped the surly bonds of earth to tread the untrod sanctity of space . . . to chase the laughing wind along." As you can see, most of the lines escape me, but they well describe the sense of buoyancy felt in my spirit when spiritual realities blossom and flourish.
Part of the joy, I believe, is the witness of the Holy Spirit with our spirit to the truth of these matters. God loves to see the eyes of our understanding open as we increase in wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him (please see Ephesians 1:17,18).
When one discovers the spiritual emphasis of a popular teaching, such as the rapture, there is an overwhelming desire to share the breakthrough with others. That is natural, and it is healthy, but let me add a word of caution. Do not venture forth without your full armor.
What Shall We Do?
One of the most hazardous tasks one can ever undertake is to speak truth to those mired in the error of traditional beliefs. The people of God are not excluded. The Gospel account of the ministry of Jesus should convince us of that.
If the Lord makes these truths real to our hearts, we should speak. Do not be so naive, however, to assume everyone will receive your revelation with abounding joy. Be ready to duck! Like everything else in the Christian life, we can only carry the message - God has to make it real to the human heart. Prayer for those to whom you speak is indispensable. Use it before, during, and after speaking. It's good for you and them.
Love should be the motivation when communicating with others - love of the truth and love for the brethren. If love isn't first you're wasting your time. God is love; His servants will reflect that.
What About The Rapture?
If Jesus came back in 70 A.D. then what about the Rapture? Well, it took place on schedule just as God, through Paul, said it would.
Saints who were alive at the Lord's return were 'caught up' to meet Jesus in the air. They became, without passing through physical death, residents of the consummated kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. God's restoration plan for man was complete, and physically alive believers were included.
I . The New Bible Dictionary (Eerdmans, 1962), p. 388
All Scripture quotations in this publication are from The New King James version. Copyright (c) 1979, 1980, 1982, Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers.
The previous tract, THE RAPTURE written by Arthur Melanson of Joy of the Lord Ministries, P.O. Box 237, Audubon, NJ 08106 For more copies of this and many, many other fine tracts on these topics Arthur, write Mr. Melanson at the address given.
What do YOU think ?
Aurthur, you present here quite a different view here than you did in the previous article I read by you "What about a First Century Rapture". Tim Terry
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