Every true Christian believes that the Lord is coming again but not every Christian believes in the Rapture. Many believers see no distinction between the Rapture, described in 1 Thessalonians 4 and the Revelation, described in Revelation 19. With all due respect to my brothers and sisters who are of this persuasion, I believe this to be a serious misunderstanding of Scripture.
I believe in the Rapture. Whilst the word "rapture" is found nowhere in Scripture, the doctrine of the Rapture is thoroughly Biblical. For the purposes of this article we can briefly define the Rapture as the imminent descent of the Lord to the air, the resurrection of the bodies of dead Christians, the transformation of living saints, and the snatching away of the entire Church by the Lord Jesus prior to the tribulation period.
I believe in the Rapture as an event distinct from the Revelation for the following reasons.
It is described differently
In describing the Rapture, Scripture refers to the coming One as "the Lord", "the Lord Jesus Christ", or "the Lord Himself" (see 1 Thess 4.15,16; 2 Thess 2.1). With regard to the Revelation, the Lord Jesus is spoken of as "Son of Man", or "King" (see Mt 25.13,31; 26.64).
The Rapture describes the return of the Lord to "the air" (1 Thess 4.16,17). The Revelation describes His return to the earth, and specifically to the Mount of Olives (Zech 14.4).
Passages describing the Rapture make no mention of the enemies of God. Passages describing the Revelation invariably foretell the judgment of Gods enemies (see Zech 14.3; Jude vv.14-15).
The Rapture is described as occurring secretly and instantaneously. The transformation of living saints is revealed as taking place "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" (1 Cor 15.52). The sudden act of removing the believers is described by a Greek verb meaning to catch up, or to snatch away (1 Thess 4.17). The Revelation, however, will be an event witnessed by men on earth. The Lord Jesus will be seen descending from heaven, just as the disciples watched Him return to heaven (Acts 1.9-11; Rev 1.7).
Scriptures relating to the Rapture emphasise the believers being taken to be with the Lord in heaven (Jn 14.3; 1 Thess 4.17). Those referring to the Revelation emphasise the Lord coming with His saints to earth (Jude v.14; Rev 19.14).
The arrival of the Rapture is unheralded by signs. There is ample evidence that the early believers expected the imminent return of the Lord (1 Thess 1.10; 4.15). The Revelation on the other hand is introduced by unmistakeable signs. The Jews in particular are repeatedly encouraged to be on the lookout for evidence of its approach (Mt 24.3,15,33).
Its character and purpose are different
The Rapture is invariably linked with salvation and comfort. Despite its frequent use in gospel preaching in our day it is not primarily concerned with judgment. It is a truth essentially for the believer. The purpose of the Rapture is deliverance from coming wrath (1 Thess 1.10). The Lord will come as the Saviour and Deliverer (Phil 3.20), saving not only from external danger and judgment, but internal corruption and failure. He will come for His saints to receive them to Himself (Jn 14.3).
The Revelation, on the other hand, is primarily associated with judgment. It ushers in the Day of the Lord an Old Testament term signifying Gods intervention in the affairs of men, chiefly in a judicial and governmental character (Zech 14.1; Rev 19.11-16). The Lord will come as the Avenger and King of kings. He will come with His saints to set up His righteous kingdom on earth (Zech 14.9).
It relates to a different group of people
The participants in the Rapture are believers of the present age (Phil 3.20). The coming of the Lord for His people was a truth revealed to Paul in New Testament times after the rejection of the gospel by the nation of Israel. The Gospel of John contains the only direct reference to the Rapture in the Gospel records (Jn 14.2-4). It is significant that John wrote his Gospel after Paul had revealed the truth of the Rapture in his epistles. The Rapture therefore is a truth for the Church.
The Revelation has primarily to do with the nation of Israel and other nations. Old Testament prophets pointed forward to the coming of the Son of Man to the earth to both judge the enemies of Israel and to set up His earthly kingdom. Zechariah records the effect that the Revelation will have on the nation of Israel as all the tribes and heads of the families mourn and publicly repent (Zech 12.10-14). The nations will be judged at the Revelation by their attitude to the nation of Israel (Mt 25.31-46).
It harmonises with the dispensational dealings of God
Daniels 70 weeks prophecy is one of the most important Old Testament prophecies relating to Israel (Dan 9.24-27). Daniel traces the future of the nation from his own times to the setting up of Messiahs Kingdom and the millennial reign. He covers a time span of 70 weeks of years (490 years). At the end of the 69th week Messiah would be cut off. Sir Robert Anderson demonstrated that the prophecy was accurately fulfilled on the exact year of the Lords crucifixion.1 The concluding week (7 years) of Daniels prophecy therefore remains unfulfilled. This final period clearly relates to the treachery of the antichrist during the tribulation period.
The present dispensation fits between the 69th and 70th weeks, harmonising with the dispensational purposes of God. The present Church age, which was unknown in Old Testament prophecy, will close with the Rapture. After the Rapture the 70th and last week of 7 years of Daniels prophecy will run its course.
This break or interval in Gods dealings with Israel is also typified in the Feasts of Jehovah (Lev 23). The Feasts are divided into two groups - four at the beginning of the year and three at the end of the year. The first four relate to the past and have been fulfilled in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit. The remaining three point to the future and await fulfilment. Between these two groups reference is made to leaving the harvest gleaning for the poor and the stranger (Lev 23.22), a picture of the present age when poor, alien Gentiles enjoy blessing in the Church era.
It maintains the Biblical distinction between the Church and Israel
Believers who deny the Rapture invariably deny any future for Israel as a nation. I believe that Israel has a great and glorious future but a future distinct from that pertaining to the Church. The Church has not replaced Israel in Gods purposes - see Romans 11.
The truth of the Rapture fits perfectly with the Biblical distinction between Israel and the Church. When the Church has been removed, God will again deal with Israel as a nation. At the Revelation the true Messiah will be unveiled to the nation of Israel, resulting in their heartfelt repentance and subsequent re-birth. To confuse the Rapture and the Revelation is to confuse Gods separate and distinct purposes for the nation of Israel.
The truth of the Rapture is revealed not simply to satisfy our curiosity regarding future events but for extremely practical purposes. It is given to comfort (Jn 14.1-3; 1 Thess 4.13-18), to confirm (1 Cor 15.51-58), and to challenge (1 Jn 3.3). It is the blessed hope of the Church, the joyous anticipation of the believer, the fulfilment of the Bride, and the eager desire of the Lord Himself. In rejoicing in this glorious truth may each adopt Johns prayer, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus" (Rev 22.20).
To be continued.
1 Sir Robert Anderson. The Coming Prince.