The Rapture of the Church Part 1
Part Three - The Rapture of the Church, Part One
When dealing with the teaching of the Rapture of the Church there are several matters that need to be addressed before looking into the Scriptures.
1) Why is the term “Rapture” not mentioned in Scripture? It is often argued that the absence of the word “Rapture” in the Bible indicates the teaching of the rapture is also absent. The fallacy of such an argument can be illustrated when we consider that the words “Trinity”, “Omniscience,” “Omnipresent” are also not found in the Bible. However, these truths are clearly proclaimed in the sacred text. Therefore, the term “rapture,” a Latin translation for the Greek, harpazoo, which means to “catch up” (1Thes. 4:17), represents a Biblical truth clearly presented in the Scriptures.
2) Why was the doctrine of the Rapture of the Church not developed until 1830 by John Nelson Darby of the Plymouth Brethren? If it is taught in the Scriptures why was it not held too in the early Church? To answer this argument we need to set the record straight.
a. The concept of a rapture of the Church has been a part of Church teaching in most mainline denominations including the Roman Catholic, Protestant and Reformed Churches. Most traditions hold that the rapture and resurrection as taught in 1 Thes. 4:13-18 will take place literally. All that Darby did was to set the timeframe of the rapture before the beginning of the Tribulation rather than at the end of time when all mankind will be resurrected and judged.
b. The pre-tribulational timeframe embraced by Darby for the rapture of the Church did not originate with Darby. A study of church history will reveal that this position was almost universally held by the Church during the first 250 years of its existence. With the advent of Replacement Theology in the latter Third Century AD, the Church as a whole abandoned this position. However, there were always small remnant groups who continued to hold to the pre-tribulational teachings of the early Church. For a more in-depth discussion of this subject I would recommend, “Maranatha, Our Lord Come!, pages 142-149 and “The Coming Apocalypse”, both by Dr. Renald E. Showers and sold on Amazon.com.
c. Since the pre-tribulational rapture of the Church is found in the New Testament teachings of the Apostles, it must be concluded that it was the position of the early church. This we will go into greater detail later.
3) Why did the majority of the Church abandon the Pre-Tribulational rapture of the Church? The answer to this question can be found in the development of Replacement Theology in the late Third Century AD. Replacement Theology introduced the idea that God’s covenant with Israel was broken permanently when Israel rejected their Messiah at His First Coming. Since Israel was rejected by God, God had turned to the Church as the replacement of Israel. Such an anti-Semitic view left some problems for the replacement theologians. The Old Testament had a considerable number of passages regarding the 2nd Coming of Christ, the restoration of Israel, and a literal Kingdom under the rule of Jesus Christ. This led to the Church identifying itself as the spiritual fulfillment of the Kingdom of Jesus and the prophesies of the 2nd coming were interpreted allegorically or spiritually to fit the Church age. Thus the Church began to believe the rapture marked not only the close of the Church age but also of the history of mankind. At this point the earth will be destroyed, all who died will be resurrected, a judgment of all mankind will take place and then everyone will go to their eternal destiny (heaven or hell). Let me share an example of how replacement theology altered the interpretation of 2nd Coming prophesies from a literal and normal grammatical interpretation to an allegorical interpretation. The following is replacement theologian Matthew Henry’s interpretation of Isaiah 11:6-9.
Isaiah 11:6-9, “"The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard shall lie down with the young goat, The calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; Their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra's hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper's den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord As the waters cover the sea.” NKJV
“Unity or concord, which is intimated in these figurative promises, that even the wolf shall dwell peaceably with the lamb; men of the most fierce and furious dispositions, who used to bite and devour all about them, shall have their temper so strangely altered by the efficacy of the gospel and grace of Christ that they shall live in love . . . . Christ, who is our peace, came to slay all enmities and to settle lasting friendships among his followers, particularly between Jews and Gentiles: when multitudes of both, being converted to the faith of Christ, united in one sheep-fold, then the wolf and the lamb dwelt together; the wolf did not so much as threaten the lamb, nor was the lamb afraid of the wolf” (from Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, PC Study Bible Formatted Electronic Database Copyright © 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All Rights reserved.)
Those who believe that Israel’s covenant relationship is still binding take the 2nd Coming prophetic passages in their literal normal grammatical understanding. Thus Isa. 11:6-9 speaks of the conditions of the 1000 year Kingdom established by Christ when he returns. In that day and time creation will be returned to its original pre-fallen condition in which man will live in complete harmony with all creatures. The lamb will dwell safely with the wolf and the child will not need to fear the poisonous snake.
It has been interesting to me that many of those who hold to the allegorical interpretation of 2nd Coming prophecies have stated that if they were to understand 2nd Coming prophesies in their literal normal grammatical sense, they would have to accept the Pre-Tribulational and Premillennial view of future events. Many of them teach a literal normal grammatical interpretation of the Scriptures with the exception of 2nd Coming prophesies. They do this in spite of the fact that there is not one verse in Scripture that calls for an allegorical interpretation of 2nd Coming prophecy.
Replacement theology adopted by the Church is clearly not the teaching of the Scriptures and the early Church. The Apostle Paul left no doubts about God keeping His covenant relationship with Israel when he wrote:
Ro 11:1-6, “I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, 3 "Lord , they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life"?* 4 But what does the divine response say to him? "I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal." 5 Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. . . . I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. 12 Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! 13 For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. 15 For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? NKJV
4) Why are there so many different views on when the rapture takes place in regards to the Tribulation? Before answering let me share the four main views besides the pre-tribulational view.
a. Post-tribulation – the Church goes through the 7 year Tribulation spoken of in Rev. 4-19 and is raptured at the time Christ returns to set up His Kingdom.
b. Mid-tribulation – that the Church is raptured at the mid-point of the Tribulation just before the most severe judgments of God.
c. Pre-wrath Tribulation – this is a position that is relatively recent and believes the Church Goes through most of the Tribulation but misses the last and greatest judgment of God.
d. Partial Rapture – that those believers who are walking with the Lord will be raptured before the Tribulation and the rest of believers will be left to endure the 7 year Tribulation.
These views were not held by the early church nor are they supported by Scripture. Let me give you a couple of examples.
a. Partial Rapture view: This view ignores the core teaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul in Romans 3-5 emphasizes that believer is declared justified before God at the moment of salvation. This means that all of his sins, past, present, and future are declared totally wiped away in God’s eyes. Therefore the only thing that would keep a believer from entering into the throne of God is any sin that is not covered under the blood of Christ. Since all sins are covered under the work of Christ, than at the rapture there will be no separating of believers based on their works and law keeping since salvation. The Partial Rapture view is also flawed when you consider that they believe all believers who are dead, regardless of their spiritual condition at death (1 Cor. 11:27-31), will be raptured and resurrected before the Tribulation. If the rapture is partial for living believers based on their walk with the Lord, so too should be the resurrection of the dead. This lack of consistency shows that this position has no merit.
b. The Mid-tribulation view: much of the teaching of this view is based on the misinterpretation of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 24-25. This misinterpretation is due to a failure to consider the context of the passage found in Matt. 24:3. The disciples at this point are not aware of a Church Age. All they know is what was taught in the Old Testament about a coming Kingdom. Therefore, Jesus shares with them about the signs of His Coming which encompasses the tribulation period and the time of His coming (Rev. 19:11-21) to set up His Kingdom. Therefore none of Matt. 24-25 can be applied to the Church age thus under mining much of the mid-tribulational view.
With this ground work laid, now we can approach the Scriptures to see what they say regarding a Rapture of the Church, a Tribulation, and a 1000 year Kingdom.