THE BIBLE STUDY
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"Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away."
~ Matthew 24:35 ~
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By Norman Manzon
Most of the studies presented thus far have been adopted from studies by the same name in The Shofar magazine found at www.MessianicAssociation.org. The Rapture is the second study in a series on eschatology, or last things, which I have chosen to call "The Future, the Afterworld and Eternity." We’ll begin with the entire Association of Messianic Congregations' statement on last things, and then proceed with The Rapture.
The two central passages on the Rapture are 1 Corinthians 15:50-53 and 1 Thessalonians
Let us begin by examining some of the text.
Asleep, used in both passages, is a euphemism for the state of those who have died, and is used in this manner in both Testaments by those who believed in the resurrection because of the obvious parallel between resurrection from death and awakening from sleep. For example, in Matthew 9:24, Jesus referred to the synagogue official's daughter as being asleep before He resurrected her, and in John 11:11, to Lazarus as being asleep before He resurrected him, who had been in the tomb for four days (verse 17).
Caught up, in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, is translated from the Greek harpazo. It is the same word used in Acts 8:39, where the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away. The word rapture is derived from the Latin raptus, which itself is derived from harpazo, and means "to snatch up or away" and other similar meanings. Therefore, although the English word rapture is not found in Scripture, it has come to identify the event plainly described in the above passages.
Now as to the meaning of clouds and air. It is more than reasonable to take air literally. After all, the Lord descend[ed] from heaven to catch up believers from the Earth to meet the Lord in the air and bring [them] with Him to Heaven, and literal air exists between Earth and Heaven. What about clouds? At times, Scripture uses clouds to refer to the clouds of the air, and at other times, to the Shechinah Glory cloud, as in Solomon's dedication of the Temple: then the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God (1 Chronicles 5:13-14. Also, most likely, in Luke 21:27 and Revelation 1:7). All things considered, there doesn't seem to be a way to definitively determine which kind of cloud is referred to in the Thessalonians passage, but it is reasonable to believe that Jesus will meet the saints in the literal air.
Now, to summarize the key points of the Rapture: At one point yet future, the Lord Jesus will descend from Heaven into the atmosphere. Then, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye (twinkling. Gr. rhipe, rhee-pay'. A quick movement), He will resurrect those who have died in Christ, that is, deceased Church Age believers, into glorified, immortal, imperishable, heavenly bodies. An instant later, the bodies of those in Christ who are alive at that moment will likewise be translated2 or transformed into heavenly bodies, and will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air to always be with the Lord from that time forth. Though all of the events from the descent of the Lord through the catching up of the saints into Heaven may be thought of as the Rapture, the actual catching up of the saints is the Rapture proper.
One thing we must note: Neither the passages we've already reviewed nor any other passage shows any indication that the Rapture is to be taken symbolically or allegorically. Scripture straightforwardly presents it as a literal event involving literal resurrections and translations and instant bodily removal of the saints to meet the Lord in the clouds.
There is no passage that tell us exactly when the Rapture will occur. In fact, Jesus declared, But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone (Matthew 24:36); but there are passages that locate it relative to other events or periods of time.
In Leviticus 23 and elsewhere, God enjoined Israel under the Law to observe seven annual feasts, each of which carries prophetic significance, and which together constitute a blueprint for God's plan from Calvary to the Millennial Kingdom. They are divided into spring and summer festivals with a significant summer hiatus between. Here they are in summary.
The Spring Festivals
1. Passover or Pesach (Leviticus 23:5)
The Summer Hiatus
After prescribing the four spring festivals and before prescribing the three fall festivals to begin four months later, the Lord declared, When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the LORD your God (Leviticus 23:22).
This seems completely out of context. What was the Lord up to here? Listen to what Jesus said to His disciples: Do you not say, “There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest”? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest (John 4:35).
Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits and Pentecost have all been fulfilled, and now is the season for us, Jesus' disciples, to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19) and thereby bring in the harvest for Him. We see, then, that the four month summer hiatus is also prophetic and has its fulfillment in the sequence of events from Calvary to the Kingdom. It is prophetic of the Church Age. (See also the Parable of the Sower: Matthew 13:3-9, Mark 4:3-9.)
The Fall Festivals
5. Trumpets or Yom T'ruah
The only biblical requirement for the keeping of the Day of Trumpets is the blowing of the shofar, the ram’s horn. Scripture gives no reason for it; but does the blowing of trumpets ring a bell in regard to the Rapture? 1 Corinthians 15:52: the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable. 1 Thessalonians 4:16: For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. We see, then, that Trumpets is prophetic of the Rapture, and in the sequence of prophetic events, it occurs after the Church Age.
6. Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur
We see, then, most significantly, that the Rapture takes place at the end of the Church Age and before the Great Tribulation. But to complete our picture of the prophetic significance of the Feasts, we'll take a look at the seventh and final feast.
7. Tabernacles, Booths or Chag HaSukkot
To conclude, the placement of the Feast of Trumpets between the summer hiatus and the Day of Atonement is powerful proof that the Rapture will take place at the end of the Church Age and before the Great Tribulation.
Some representative passages:
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10
Wrath is one of the terms used in Scripture to refer to the Great Tribulation. It does not refer to Hell in the passage: No believer is in jeopardy of being sent to Hell,4 and the thrust of the letter has to with the Great Tribulation, not Hell. Paul was pleased that the Thessalonians were wait[ing] for [God's] Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come. It is obvious that the Thessalonians were waiting for deliverance before the Tribulation began, and we know that the Rapture is the deliverance that they were waiting for because in 4:13-18, Paul answered a concern that they had about the Rapture, namely, what happens to believers who die before it takes place. So this passage likewise shows that the Rapture will occur before the Tribulation.
1 Thessalonians 5:9
2 Thessalonians 2:1-4
In this context, the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ obviously refers to the Lord's coming in the clouds for the Rapture, not to His return to Earth, a subsequent event. In verses 2-4, Paul assures the Thessalonians that the Tribulation will not begin until anti-Christ is revealed. He had not been revealed at the time of Paul's writing, nor has he yet been revealed because Daniel 9:27 informs us that he will be revealed when he signs a seven-year covenant of peace with Israel, and no such treaty has yet been signed. In other words, the passage says that the church will be gather[ed] together to Him at the Rapture before anti-Christ is revealed - before the Great Tribulation.
Who say that they are Jews and are not may either be taken literally, just as many through the centuries have said that they are Jews and are not, (e.g., British Israelites) or it may mean literal Jews who are not fulfilling their calling as Jews by believing in their Messiah, Jesus, as in Romans 2:28-29 as understood in the context of verses 14-29, particularly verse 17. In any case, those who have kept the word of My perseverance are distinguished from the obvious unbelievers referred to in verse 9, and the Lord promises that He will keep them from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. He did not say that He will snatch them out of the Great Tribulation, but keep them from it, necessitating a pre-Tribulation Rapture.
The Structure of the Book of Revelation
In Luke 21:28, Yeshua said to His disciples, But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. This redemption is the same as the redemption of the body in Romans 8:23 and the day of redemption in Ephesians 4:30, namely, the Rapture.
But what things? The main body of this (Olivet) discourse (Matthew 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21:5-6) consists of Jesus' answers to three questions that His disciples asked: Tell us, when will these things happen? and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age (Matthew 24:3b)? To paraphrase, "What will be the sign 1. of the destruction of Jerusalem (cf. Matthew 24:1-2), 2. of Your Second Coming, and 3. of the end of the world as we know it before the Messianic or Millennial Kingdom?
But when will these things begin to take place? Chronologically, the first of the three events was the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D. In addition, and significantly, Yeshua opened the discourse by saying of the temple, Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down (Matthew 24:2). His focus was not on the sign that the destruction was about to take place, which was the siege of the city in 66 A.D., nor on the flight of the believers which He commanded once the city became besieged (Luke 21:20-21) - and if He commanded them to flee, the Rapture certainly could not have taken place before their flight! - but on the actual destruction of the city, which was God's judgment on Israel for rejecting Him (Matthew 23:37-39). We can reasonably conclude, then, that the Rapture could have taken place any time after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
First some verses, then conclusions:
In John 14:2-3, the Lord told His disciples,
2. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so,
told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3. If I go and
prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself,
that where I am, there you may be also.
Before the Lord comes to Rapture His church, He must complete the
dwellings places for all church saints, and only He knows when they are
James 5:8: The coming of the Lord is near.
Philippians 4:5b: The Lord is
The Lord says three times in Revelation 22, I am coming quickly (verses 7,12 and 20). According to Strong, one possible translation of quickly is (by surprise) suddenly. Even in common speech quickly doesn't always mean right away. It can mean suddenly: "When you cross that street, be careful. Traffic will be coming quickly."
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10: 9. For they themselves report . . . how you . . . 10. wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Yeshua, who rescues us from the wrath to come.
Other verses exhorting believers to wait for our resurrection, glorification, and our hope of righteousness in state as well as in present standing are Romans 8:25 and Galatians 5:5. In all three of these verses, the Greek word for wait means to eagerly wait.
2. When it will occur, it will occur suddenly
- yes, in a moment, in the
twinkling of an eye!
The Rapture could have occurred immediately after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Relative to the present moment, it will occur after the Lord has completed the dwelling places for His church saints, and it will occur at the very end of the Church Age and before the Great Tribulation. From our limited perspective, it can occur at any time: It is imminent.
1 Thessalonians 4:16 states that those in Christ will be raptured. Also, 1 Corinthians 15:22-23: 22. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming. Again, the Festival of Firstfruits is prophetic of Christ's resurrection, and Trumpets is prophetic of the Rapture of those who are Christ's at His coming. In light of verse 22, the latter part of verse 23 refers specifically to the resurrection of the deceased in Christ. But who, exactly, is in Christ?
Obviously, it includes only believers. 1 Thessalonians 4:14 distinguishes those in Christ from the rest who have no hope, and verse 17 states that they shall always be with the Lord. But believers since Adam?
An examination of Scripture will show that in Christ and other such terms, in Yeshua, in Christ Jesus, in Him, in whom and in the Lord, are used, without exception, for believers from Pentecost through the Rapture - in other words, for church saints; for the Church Age began at Pentecost and will terminate with the Rapture.5 Remember: On the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, the Spirit baptized two sinful “loaves” into one body: For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles (1 Corinthians 12:13) that He might make the two into one new man (Ephesians 2:15).
All pre- and post-church saints will likewise come to dwell with the Lord in Heaven,6 but the Rapture involves only those in Christ, the church, believers from Pentecost to the Rapture - and all in Christ.
The church is raptured before the Great Tribulation; yet, there are many who believe that at least some believers who are alive at the time of the Rapture will be left behind by the Lord to remain on Earth during the Tribulation. We will now address this issue.
The Scriptures say all:
1 Corinthians 15:51
1 Thessalonians 5:3-5
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
In verse 18, Paul exhorts the Thessalonians, Therefore, comfort one another with these words. Now, if Paul had left any impression that some of the Thessalonians might be left behind at the Rapture, on what basis could they comfort one another?
These all passages leave no loophole for "most" or "some."
To emphasize the fact that no Church Age believer will miss the Rapture and be on Earth during the Tribulation, let us see who the Tribulation is for.
1 Thessalonians 5:3-5
The Great Tribulation is not for church saints, who are all sons of light and sons of day, but is for those who are in darkness, a reference to those who have not received the Lord as Savior.
2 Thessalonians 2:8-13
The Tribulation is not for those who have been chosen . . . for salvation, but is for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For what reason is the Tribulation for them? That they all may be judged who did not believe the truth. Can a passage be more exclusive of Church saints than this?
Both passages clearly distinguish between believers, who will not experience the Tribulation, and unbelievers at the time of the Rapture who will be left on Earth to be judged during the Tribulation because they chose darkness and wickedness over light and salvation.
All church saints will be Raptured and none will experience the Tribulation; yet, some passages have been misunderstood to mean that some church saints will be left behind for the sake of chastisement or sanctification. Often such misinterpretation is influenced by having observed some who claim to be believers but act as if they are not, and by the fact that believers are promised chastisement by the Lord as a means of sanctification (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:5, Hebrews 12:6-11). To begin with, personal observation ought never to be used as a basis for interpreting Scripture: Scripture ought to be used to interpret our personal observations! Let us now examine some relevant categories of Scripture.
Not all who appear to be believers really are believers. They appear to the natural eye to be members of the church, but they have never, from the heart, exercised faith in the Lord to be saved (cf. Romans 10:9-10). In Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, the Lord metaphorically identifies such as tares. A tare is a weed that looks like wheat, but is not wheat. They are not believers, at all, and those who are alive at the time of the Rapture will be left behind. Tares are also the subject of Matthew 7:21-23: 21. Not everyone who says to Me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 21. Many will say to Me on that day, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?" 23. And then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS."
Of course, tare "believers" will be left behind at the Rapture. They were never believers, at all: I never knew you.
Carnal (KJV) or men of flesh (NASB) believers are to be distinguished from what 1 Corinthians 3:1 refers to as babes (KJV) or infants in Christ (NASB). Verses 1-3 describe carnal believers as ones who are no longer babes, but have not yet matured, who act as if they had never been saved. It is this class of believers that is truly the subject of the issue: Will they be left behind for the sake of chastisement and sanctification during the Great Tribulation? Let us examine some passages that are often taken to say that they will, and then a real eye-opener that shows who could have gotten raptured.
1. Passages in
Which event does this refer to, the Rapture or the Second Coming? At the judgment of the sheep and goats immediately following the Second Coming, none will remain in the field or at the mill as the Lord said that He will gather them all for the judgment (Matthew 25:31-46, esp. v. 32); but in this passage, some will be taken and some left, a phenomenon consistent with the Rapture.
Will any believers be among those who will be left? The passage simply does not say so, and we must be content to answer our question on the basis of the "all" passages: All believers living at the time of the Rapture will be raptured.
The passage must be understood on the basis of the Jewish wedding traditions of the day, which those whom Jesus was addressing knew well:
The passage does not refer to the Rapture, but to those survivors of the Tribulation who are and are not allowed entry into the Messianic Kingdom. It cannot be taken to indicate that some believers will be left behind at the Rapture.
2. The Corinthian
In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul spends thirteen verses taking the Corinthians to task. He begins, It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife (v. 1). Paul considered this man's offense so severe that he urged the church to excommunicate him (v. 13), and he himself decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (The destruction of his flesh refers to the destruction of the body, even unto death, if necessary, if there is no repentance.) Now note: Paul did not know whether or not the man would repent; yet it was to this same church - in the same letter - that he wrote, we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed - even that Corinthian man.
There are passages that refer to tribulation that is common to all believers, but do not refer to the Great Tribulation. Such passages may be thought of as general tribulation passages, and must be distinguished from Great Tribulation passages. Yet, some believers confuse the former with the latter and conclude that some believers will experience the Great Tribulation.
Two such passages are John 16:33 and Romans 8:35.
John 16:33: In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.
Romans 8:35: Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
On what basis shall we distinguish between the two classes of passages? If there is no direct or contextual reference to the Great Tribulation, it is only reasonable to view it as a general tribulation passage.
The Book of Revelation reveals that there will be multitudes of believers on Earth during the Great Tribulation. Some take this to mean that some church saints will miss the Rapture and experience the Tribulation. However, a simple, thoughtful reading of Revelation 7:4-10 will indicate that these people become saved during the Tribulation: 144,000 Jews will be sovereignly saved by God, and these, in turn, will lead multitudes to salvation.
But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. (Luke 21:36)
Does this mean that if believers don't pray for strength to escape all these things that they will be left behind at the Rapture to endure the Great Tribulation?
Strength is translated be counted worthy in many other translations, including Young's Literal and the Literal Translation of the Holy Bible. Also, the same Greek word translated escape is found in Romans 2:3, 1 Thessalonians 5:3, and Hebrews 2:3; and in all of these cases, it clearly means "to avoid." Therefore, the verse cannot refer to believers escaping out of the Tribulation, but of avoiding it completely. Other than dying before the Tribulation, how may one avoid it completely? By receiving the Lord - the only way of being counted worthy (2 Corinthians 5:21) to be Raptured and to stand before the Son of Man at the Judgment Seat of Christ in Heaven to receive their rewards (1 Corinthians 3:11-15). Now, the disciples whose questions Jesus was responding to were already saved; so when He used you, He could not have been referring to them: He must have been prophetically exhorting all of Israel to receive Him as their Messiah and to thereby be sure of avoiding the time of Jacob's trouble (Jeremiah 30:7) - yet, He spoke it in the hearing of His apostles, for it was to be their commission to carry these and all of His words to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 1:16).
He was not exhorting believers to pray to be counted worthy to avoid the Tribulation. He was prophetically exhorting unsaved Israelites to be counted worthy to avoid it by receiving Him as Christ.
There appear to be three major points of significance in regards to the Rapture:
2 Peter 3:3-4: 3. Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4. and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation." The passage is specific to the Lord's Second Coming, but it may easily said of the Rapture, as well.
The Bible records events akin to the Rapture, and we believe that they actually happened; yet, when it comes to the Rapture, some wonder. Perhaps reviewing these events may strengthen faith where such strengthening is needed. It is suggested that the reader decide which elements of the Rapture are in common with these events, which are different, and which we cannot discern as not enough information is given. For example, the Rapture takes place in an instant, but we know that the Lord's ascension was gradual because it is recorded that His disciples watched Him rise.
Do we believe these things? If so, there should be no doubt about the Rapture, either. Speaking specifically of a pre-Tribulation Rapture, Paul exhorted, Therefore, my brothers, stand fast and hold the teachings which you have been taught, whether by word or by our letter (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
John 14:27: Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. 28. You heard that I said to you, "I go away, and I will come to you." This exhortation appears to make immediate reference to His resurrection, but it obviously has application to the Rapture, as well.
Romans 8:23: And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.
1 Corinthians 15:55-57: 55. "O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?" 56. The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57. but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 1:10: and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come. Also Romans 8:25 and Galatians 5:5.
Titus 2:13: looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ . . . .
These passages were all written in the context of the Rapture:
VIII. CHURCH SAINTS REWARDED
Once the church has been raptured and in Heaven with Christ, each of its members will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ. Romans 14: 10b. For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. . . . 12. So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God; 2 Corinthians 5:10: For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad; and Luke 21:36, which we already addressed: But keep on the alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. Here, at the Judgment Seat of Christ, each believer will be rewarded for the quality of his or her service for Christ while here on Earth. Paul declared,
Some passages shedding light on what the Lord will look for as He judges, and the rewards that He will bestow, are Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 6:1-4; 1 Corinthians 9:4-27; 2 Timothy 2:5, 4:8; James 1:12, 3:1-9; 1 Peter 5:1-6 and Revelation 2:10.
1. The entire We
Believe statement of the Association of
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By Norman Manzon
Norman Manzon is a Bible teacher in Hawaii
and may be reached