we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together
with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. . ."
1 Thessalonians 4:17
the longings of every Christian are summed up by John's last
words in Revelation when he says, "Even so, come, Lord
Jesus" (Revelation 22:20). What rapture it will be when,
"It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is
shown in weakness; it is raised in power" (1 Corinthians
the possibility of a "rapture" for some not-so-Christian
people has become a subject of intense fascination as we approach
the beginning of a new Millennium. How else could the novel
on the rapture, Apollyon: The Destroyer is Unleashed, hit
the NEW YORK TIMES bestseller list?
expectations surrounding the return of Christ and the gathering
of his people are tied in with a period of "Seven Years'
Tribulation." Some feel Christ will first take his church
secretly before these seven years (Pre-Tribulation); some
feel it will be in the middle (Mid-Tribulation); some after
(Post-Tribulation). And yet another view: Partial-Rapturism
asserts that some will be taken before, during and the rest
after. (RE-THINKING THE RAPTURE, pp. 24, 25) In any case,
it is generally understood, "one shall be taken, and
the other shall be left" (Luke 17:34). Then, many expect,
after a temple is built in Jerusalem, abominable worship established
and 144,000 converted Jews try to save others-Christ will
come with his church and begin the 1,000-year reign.
was the Apostle Paul, by inspiration, really telling us? He
was teaching us that those who have fallen asleep through
the Christian Age would be raised first when Christ would
return from heaven. Those living at the time would not precede
those who slept, but afterward would join them in the same
place. "We who are alive and remain until the coming
of the Lord shall not precede those who have fallen asleep.
. .Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together
with them in the clouds to met the Lord in the air. . . (1
Thessalonians 4:15-17 NAS). "Together" here means
the same place-not the same time. "Together" means
place or location just as it does a few verses later when
Paul says, "we may live together with him" (1 Thessalonians
5:10). The place is the "air." Satan, the "god
of this world," has been invisibly ruling as the "prince
of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2). Jesus returns
as a King invading Satan's domain setting up his own Kingdom.
"dead in Christ" rise first. Afterward those saints
who are "alive and remain till the coming ["presence,"
Gk.] of the Lord" join them. They do not need to sleep
to wait for Christ to return! Paul elsewhere explains, "We
shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment,
in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump..."(1 Corinthians
15:51,52). Thus those who were asleep are raised instantaneously
upon Christ's return from heaven. But those who die in the
Lord from "henceforth"—when he has returned—"rest
from their labors and their works do follow" (Revelation
14:13). One by one-as they prove "faithful unto death"
(Revelation 2:10)—"in a twinkling of an eye"
each will join Jesus and the brethren who preceded. They join
in one place, not at one time.
taken. . . "
didn't Jesus say, "one taken, and the other left"
(Luke 17:36)? If a driver of a car is a Christian, wouldn't
he just be "taken"? If an airline pilot is a Christian,
won't he just be "taken"? On the contrary, a careful
look at the texts reveals that the ones on the "housetop"
are warned not to go inside to take their things. There is
time for choices! The one in the "field" should
not decide to "return back" to his house before
leaving. Furthermore, they are not being snatched away to
heaven. But then, where are they going? The apostles, in fact,
asked this logical question, "Where, Lord?" (Luke
answered-as he usually did in symbolic language—"Wheresoever
the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together."
Faithful Christians are being gathered to a spiritual feast
when he returns! Some respond to the opportunity. Some do
not. Jesus, who had been saying to his church through the
age, "Behold, I come quickly," finally says, "Behold,
I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice, and
open the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him
and he with me" (Revelation 3:11, 20). In keeping with
one of the signs of his return, Jesus said he would provide
"meat in due season" (Matthew 24:45).
the "carcass" to which we as eagles are gathered
could not be the Lord's fleshly body in heaven. He is spirit
now (1 Corinthians 15:45). (We would not be eating his flesh
in heaven anyway!) So some would be teachers "grinding
at the mill" when the Lord would return. Some would be
in the "field"—in the world—not connected
with any church ("house"). Some would be very comfortably
lying in their creedbeds (Isaiah 23:20) when Jesus would return.
The test would be, Would Christians be spiritually sleeping
or spiritually awake to understand that Jesus had returned
as a "thief"? Would they be investigating God's
"times and seasons" in the Scriptures? Would they
understand the "signs" Jesus had given his disciples
to confirm that he had returned invisibly? If Jesus' disciples
would be ready, they would feast on the truths the returned
Lord would provide. They would understand he had returned!
was one of the signs Jesus gave for his return. "Then
shall be great tribulation such as was not since the beginning
of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matthew
24:32). The world has known trouble for a long time, but this
trouble would be without precedent. Christ's peaceable Kingdom
is established in a time of trouble.
what would happen in this "great tribulation"? Do
we know how long it would last? Why do some Christians believe
Christ first comes secretly to take his saints before the
worst of it? Jesus, in fact, does come like a "thief
in the night" and faithful Christians are admonished
not to be spiritually asleep so they would not know the "day
of the Lord" had arrived (1 Thessalonians 5:1-6). Thieves
do not enter a house with trumpets or shouts. That is why
Paul when talking about Jesus descending from "heaven
with a shout...and with the trump of God," is warning
God's people that they should not be spiritually sleeping."
Therefore let us not sleep as do others..." They hear
a trumpet message and the "shout" of encouragement.
He really does come secretly for his saints while the rest
of the world sleeps on....
as "business as usual" was going on in Noah's day,
so it would be in the days of the Son of man. "And as
it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days
of the Son of man. They did eat, they drank, they married
wives..." (Luke 17:26,27). Unless one was spiritually
awake-investigating the time prophecies and reading the signs-he
or she would not know Christ had returned and was assembling
his resurrected saints in the "air"!
Jesus was quoting from Daniel's prophecy regarding signs of
Messiah's return to take authority over the earth. And there
were others signs besides tribulation and trouble. "And
at that time shall Michael ["who as God," Jesus]
stand up the great prince which standeth for the children
of thy people [Israel], and there shall be a time of trouble
such as never was since there was a nation...many shall run
to and fro and knowledge shall be increased" (Daniel
12:1,4). During "the time of trouble," there would
also occur a restoration of Israel! Jesus mentions that sign
in his prophecy too-the blossoming "fig tree" (Matthew
24:32). Sounds like our times.... Never have we seen the potential
for global annihilation. "This century," says former
Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in THE NEW YORK TIMES,
4/21/99, "has been the bloodiest in history. Over 160
million human beings have been killed in various conflicts
and that number rises each day." But never have we enjoyed
such travel and communication as we have been experiencing
since the last century. Never have we seen a dead and scattered
nation like Israel after 2,000 years come back to life as
in our time!
could the tribulation be only seven years? The idea of seven
years, actually, is borrowed from a prophecy in Daniel about
Christ's first advent--not his second! While in Babylon, Daniel
was informed that "seventy weeks" of favor from
God would be given to his people to prepare them for the coming
Messiah. A week would equal prophetic seven days—or
seven years. So 7 x 70 would equal 490 years beginning with
the "commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem"
(Daniel 9:16-27). Seven weeks or 49 years would be spent in
rebuilding Jerusalem, "even in troublous times"
where Messiah would present himself to his people. Then sixty
two weeks (or 434 years) more of just waiting for Messiah.
At the beginning of the last "week," Messiah would
483 years after Nehemiah's commission to rebuild Jerusalem,
Jesus presented himself as Messiah at the Jordan River! Right
in the middle of this last week of God's favor, alas, the
Jewish people rejected their Messiah. After 3½ years—anticipating
his rejection—Jesus sorrowfully said, "Your house
in left unto you desolate..." But still, although as
a nation cast off, special favor to the Jewish common people
themselves continued the last 3½ years until the first
Gentile convert, Cornelius. Thus the last seven years of the
prophecy was fulfilled. A "seven years' tribulation,"
therefore, cannot be applied to the second advent from this
the tribulation associated with Jesus' return is much longer
than seven years—still the good that will come from
it will be more than compensated in Christ's 1,000-year Kingdom.
Yes, this tribulation has begun already, and it will get worse.
Yes, the saints have been gathering secretly to be with the
Lord. But for those left behind when all the faithful Christians
are all resurrected, there will be much joy and relief. "For
the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the
revealing of the sons of God" (Romans 8:19 NAS). When
Christ with his bride as "the holy city, new Jerusalem"
is revealed to the rest of the world—then all the longings
of mankind, those left behind, will also begin to be fulfilled