The Lord revealed unto the Apostle Paul the mystery of the Universal Church, one of the salient features of the present dispensation of grace (Eph 3.1-7). There are some fourteen mysteries mentioned in the New Testament but only two carry the distinction of being "great". Interestingly, both of these have to do with the two bodies of our Lord Jesus Christ.
His physical body is referred to in 1 Timothy 3.16 when Paul wrote: "great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh".
His mystical body is referred to in Ephesians 5.32 when Paul wrote: "This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church".
The Universal Church, the mystical Body of Christ (Eph 1.23), came into being on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). By means of the baptism in the Spirit (1 Cor 12.13) every believer alive on earth that day became a member of this Body. This did not just include the 120 believers mentioned in Acts 1.15, like Peter and Mary, but also included those that were found in places distant from Jerusalem. For example, if indeed they were still alive, there would also be included: the Samaritan woman (Jn 4), the ex-paralytic of Capernaum (Mk 2), the ex-demon-possessed man from Gadara (Mk 5) and the Syrophenician woman (Mk 7). People saved since Pentecost automatically come into the good of membership in the Body by means of the sealing of the Holy Spirit upon conversion (Eph 1.13). The Universal Church will be completed at the Rapture and will be manifested eternally as the glorious Church, the Bride of Christ (Eph 5.27; Rev 22.17).
Perhaps it should be emphasised that believers who are members of the Universal Church share the privilege of being a unique group of saints in the eternal purpose of God. John the Baptist, the greatest among the prophets (Lk 7.28), died shortly before Pentecost and, therefore, is not, and never will be, a member of the Body of Christ. No believer from Old Testament times, the Tribulation, or the Millennium will enjoy such a privileged position but, dear Christian, you and I do!
The meek of Old Testament times shall inherit the earth (Ps 37.11), but ours is a heavenly calling (Heb 3.1). Our citizenship is in heaven, from whence we look for the Saviour (Phil 3.20). Like the Thessalonians, we wait for Gods Son from heaven (1 Thess 1.10). Our inheritance is in heaven (1 Pet 1.4). If our frail bodies be dissolved in death, God will clothe us again, but with a house which is from heaven (2 Cor 5.2). "Sing the glad song: Jesus is coming again!"
The New Testament reveals to us that there are two aspects, or stages, to the second coming of Christ:
First of all, He will come to the air, for His Church, before the Tribulation, to take us to His Fathers House (Jn 14.1-3; 1 Thess 4.13-18; Rev 3.10).
Secondly, He is coming to Earth, with His Church, after the Tribulation to set up His Kingdom (Mt 24.29-30; Rev 19.11-21).
It is this first aspect of His coming that we refer to as "the Rapture", because it emphasises the manner in which the Church will suddenly be caught up to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess 4.17; 2 Thess 2.1).
The Bible describes the Rapture as being:
1. Important. The last time the Lord Jesus speaks in Scripture He refers three times to the fact that He is coming again (Rev 22.7,12,20).
2. Imminent. This means that it could happen at any moment. It is an event that is pending in the purposes of God. The tense in the above-mentioned references is actually: "I am coming"!
3. Instantaneous. It will happen "in a moment" (an atom of time); in "the twinkling (blinking) of an eye" (scientists say it takes twenty one-hundredths of a second to blink!). As an unsaved boy I thought I would have time to grab my fathers ankle not so! (1 Cor 15.52).
4. Invisible. This event will happen unseen, unnoticed, by the world. Enoch was, but, all of a sudden, "was not" (Gen 5.24).
5. Intimate. Lovely words: "Our gathering together unto him" (2 Thess 2.1). I doubt it will involve Old Testament saints.
6. Imperative. The Lord Jesus promised it (Rev 3.10). Gods plan of the ages cannot proceed any further until it takes place. "He that shall come will come" (Heb 10.37).
7. Integral. It will involve the whole Church. A partial rapture would be a rupture! "We shall all be changed" (1 Cor 15.51).
8. Irresistible. "Caught up" (harpazo Strongs 726) means to seize, to pluck, to take away by force. Jerome used the Latin synonym raptare, which is where we get the word rapture from.
9. Impressive. Millions of tombs will be left empty, millions of believers will be listed as "Not Found"! (Heb 11.5).
10. Irreversible. Unsaved people left behind will not be able to move the clock back so as to correct their tragic mistake of missing salvation (Lk 13.25; 2 Thess 2.10-12).
11. Inspiring. Believers that love the coming of the Lord will live lives of consecration and service as "men that wait for their Lord" (2 Tim 4.8; Lk 12.42).
12. Indicative. Once the Church is removed from this Earth intelligent minds among the unsaved remaining will discern that the stage is set for the fulfilment of Daniels 70th Week (Dan 9.27; 1 Thess 5.3).
In the upper room, once Judas had left, the Lord Jesus was the first to speak of His personal return for the Church (Jn 14.1-3). His prayer to the Father in John 17 intimates the longing in His heart that the Rapture take place (Jn 17.24). Think again of the last three times He spoke about it:
1. Revelation 22.7 The believers wealth
"Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book."
2. Revelation 22.12 The believers work
"Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be."
3. Revelation 22.21 The believers wish
"Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus."
Revelation 6.9-11 teaches a principle about disembodied saints in heaven: they, too, long for future events to take place! Even though those believers referred to are clearly Tribulation saints, Paul seems to express the yearning of all present-day Church saints when he wrote that "we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven" (2 Cor 5.2).
Creation itself, in a way that I cannot understand, yearns for the Rapture to take place. "For the earnest expectation of the creature [margin: creation] waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom 8.19-23).
With the night far spent (Rom 13.12) and the Morning Star about to appear (Rev 22.16), the Universal Church and the Holy Spirit of God also long for the Rapture to take place. "The Spirit and the bride say, Come" (Rev 22.16).
Every individual believer should live looking for (Tit 2.13), and loving, the Lords return (2 Tim 4.8). Do I?
Key to the chart
1. Christ descends from the third heaven to the atmosphere of earth (1 Thess 4.16).
2. The souls of departed saints return to earth to be reunited with their bodies (1 Thess 4.14). (This has to happen, regardless of differing views on the meaning of this verse!)
3. The Lord will call with a shout, an archangelical and trumpet-like voice (1 Thess 4.16).
4. Resurrection of believers that have died (1 Thess 4.16; 1 Cor 15.52).
5. Living saints are transformed (1 Cor 15.52; Phil 3.21; Rom 8.23; 1 Jn 3.2).
6. The Church (all its members simultaneously) is caught up (1 Thess 4.17).
7. The Holy Spirit is taken out of the way (2 Thess 2.7).
8. The Church meets the Lord in the air (1 Thess 4.17; 2 Thess 2.1).
9. The Captain of our salvation "bringing many sons unto glory" (Heb 2.10).
10. Our presentation before the Father (Heb 2.13; Jude v.24; Rev 3.5).
Some additional notes:
- Two heavens (Gen.1.1, see Newberry margin). The third heaven (2 Cor 12.2) is "heaven itself" (Heb 9.24), often referred to in Revelation (4.1,2; etc.).
- The Universal Church is made up of individuals from every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation (Rev 5.9). It has been two thousand years in the making, and is probably almost complete (Mt 16.18)!
- According to H W Hoehner (Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, Zondervan), Christ died on Friday, 3rd April, AD 33, and ascended to heaven on 14th May. He sets the date for Pentecost at 24th May of the same year.
- The Church could not be formed until Christ was exalted as Head (Eph 1.22-23). The Tribulation cannot begin until the Church is removed (Rev 3.10; 2 Thess 1.10; 1 Thess 5.9).