EVIDENCE SUPPORTING A PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE

Part 1

INTRODUCTION

The rapture is an amazing revelation of the great love Jesus has for His bride the Church. We the Church, “the Bride of Christ,” should be responding to Jesus with that same love, which includes a yearning to be with Him. A Bride longs for the day of her wedding, a time when she will at last be truly bound to her husband in a union of love. This is the emotion our Lord Jesus expects from his Bride, the Church, which would be in line with, but never matching, His great love for us, His Bride – the body of people He died for. Jesus longs for the time when we will be with Him to rule and reign with Him. The rapture needs to be understood from this perspective: a bride is being called out to be with her bridegroom for the marriage ceremony.

For those who are unsure of what exactly the rapture is, a short definition is required. The word “rapture” does not appear anywhere in the various English Bible translations. However, the word “rapture” was introduced into the English language by Protestants who took the word from the dominant Bible of the pre-Reformation Church, Jerome’s Vulgate, a Latin translation of the original Greek New Testament. The word “rapture” is taken from the statement in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, where Paul explains that believers will be “caught up… to meet the Lord in the air”. The Greek word explaining the act of being “caught up” is harpazo, which means to be grasped hastily, to be snatched up. The Greek word harpazo translated into Latin is raeptius, which eventually became the term used today – rapture, which signifies the believer being caught up to be with Jesus in the air for the marriage supper and the union of Jesus with His Church.

The event is described in detail in both 1 Cor. 15:50-57 and 1 Thess. 4:13-18:

“Listen I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep but we will all be changed – in a flash in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable have been clothed with imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’” (1 Cor. 15:51-54).

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thess. 4:16-17).

In the above two scriptures Paul reveals the mystery of the rapture (1 Cor. 15:51). A mystery in scripture is a truth that was previously hidden from the knowledge of man and which is now revealed. The two scriptures combined together give a clear picture of the events that make up the rapture.

The rapture begins with Jesus descending from heaven to the clouds above the earth. Then, at the sound of a trumpet, a loud command is given, calling those who believe in Him as their Lord and saviour to join Him in the air above the earth. Paul makes it clear that the rapture is for the Church only when he writes “the dead in Christ will rise first (1 Thess. 4:16)”. Jesus is only returning for the Church, the Bride of Christ. The saints of the Old Testament could not enter heaven until the price for their redemption was paid for by Jesus on the cross, and their bodily resurrection will only take place when everyone is resurrected just prior to the Great White Throne of Judgement, “some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt (Dan. 12:2)”. The rapture occurs in a flash, the human eye will not be able to capture the event. It will occur “in the twinkling of an eye (1 Cor. 15:51).” One moment the person will be on earth the next they will have vanished.

The first to arise at the call are all the saints who have died since the crucifixion of Jesus. As their corrupted bodies are raised from the grave they are changed into immortal bodies. Then those believers in Jesus who are alive at the time of the rapture are raised from the earth to heaven, escaping death, and their bodies being changed from mortal to immortal bodies that will live for eternity. As these believers do not die, but are translated into the presence of God, death has had no hold on them and they will truly be able to say “Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting?”

Paul clearly teaches that the raptured saints will receive heavenly bodies, much the same as the resurrected body of Jesus; this is the primary purpose of the rapture. In our eternal bodies we will be able to think about being at some destination and appear there (Luke 24:31; John 20:19). We will be able to pass through solid objects (John 20:19, 26). Although we will not require food as an energy resource, we will be able to eat (Luke 24:41-43). These are just some of the marvels our immortal bodies will be able to perform.

The resurrected saints, when gathered to be with the Lord in the air, are referred to in scripture as the Bride of Christ, who will journey with Jesus to heaven where the marriage supper of the Lamb will take place “and so [they] will be with the Lord forever.”

The certainty of the rapture is made clear by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 when he writes “we believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep (have died) in him”. Paul is assuring the Thessalonians that the belief in the rapture was just as certain as their belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Thus, Paul is elevating the rapture to a very important doctrinal position. The Church needs to take cognizance of the significance of the rapture in scripture.

PRE-, POST-, AND AMILLENNIALISM 

The importance of the study of eschatology (the theology of end-time events) in the Church must not be underestimated. Many pastors are avoiding the topic in their sermons and teachings as they believe that the topic is too controversial and will cause division in their churches. This is a grave mistake for the following reasons:

  • Prophecy is given by God as a revelation that He is the one true God who knows what is going to happen in the future, “I am God and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come (Isa. 46:9-10)”. With God identifying prophecy as an important revelation that He is the One True God; the onus is on the Church to make a detailed study of prophecy.
  • Scripture is 28% prophecy – with prophets, the apostles, and Jesus Himself, speaking in depth on the subject. Biblical scholars point to Jesus fulfilling more than 300 prophetic scriptures, 44 of them being direct indicators to Jesus being the Messiah. If such a wealth of scripture is prophecy, and there is more prophecy pointing to the return of Jesus as King than there is prophecy that identifies Jesus as the suffering Messiah, surely we should be paying close attention to End Times prophecy? Jesus berates the Pharisees in Matthew 16:1-4 for not being able to “interpret the signs of the times.” The Pharisees’ lack of prophetic knowledge prevented them from being able to recognise Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. The Church needs to be able to interpret the “signs of the times” indicating the return of Jesus as Lord.
  • The apostle Peter tells us in his second letter that “no prophecy came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit”. Peter instructs us that all Biblical prophecy does not come from the individual writer’s own impulse, but is given by the Holy Spirit. So, when we read prophecy we are tapping into the omniscient (all-knowing) nature of God. God is revealing to us what He wants us to know about the future. The apostle Paul emphasises the importance this in 2 Timothy 3:16 when he writes “all scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (KJV)”. “All scripture” includes our studying End Times prophecy as a necessary part of interpreting scripture.
  • An individual’s interpretation and understanding of eschatology will inevitably have an effect on their interpretation of scripture. Scripture is not compartmentalised and separated. It is a collective unit and interrelated, so error in the interpretation of End Times prophecy may allow error in other areas of doctrine.
  • God gives prophecy to comfort his children. God is not a deistic God who stands aloof from His creation. By giving us prophecy, God is assuring us that no matter what the circumstances, He is in control. End Times prophecy shows that God has a wonderful plan and purpose in place to restore the earth back to a perfect earth governed by a perfect God. The Church should be making a concerted effort to understand what that plan and purpose is.
  • When prophecy is not taught in the Church, the members of the congregation are susceptible to the deceptions and incorrect doctrines from other sources.
  • Prophecy is given by God to direct the focus of intersession and ensure the actions of the Church are in line with His divine will. Prophecies will not just happen, God requires the Church to intercede into the areas of the prophetic to bring about the victory in the spiritual realm which will result in the fulfilment of the prophecy. Daniel understood from the scriptures, according to the word given by Jeremiah the prophet that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years (Dan. 9:2). Daniel immediately fasted and prayed in sackcloth and ashes for the restoration of the Jews to Jerusalem. Evidence of the spiritual battle that takes place over Daniel’s efforts to understand and discern God’s prophetic plan for the Jews is recorded in Daniel 10:12-13 where an angel is hindered from answering Daniel’s prayer by a demonic power for three weeks. There is a spiritual battle taking place regarding God’s End Times‘ plans, and God requires the Church to pray in support of those plans.

Eschatology does matter. It is extremely important for Christians to study God’s Word and ensure they have a sound understanding of the direction in which the Lord is leading His Church. 1 Chronicles 12:32 refers to the men of Issachar who “understood the times and knew what Israel should do”. The Church needs men and women like the men of Issachar who are able to understand the signs of the times and know what God expects of His Church.

So, before we can proceed with the rapture we need to study the three main eschatological views, remembering that there can only be one truth, one eschatological understanding that is the correct way to interpret Biblical prophecy.

Pre-millennialism

Pre-millennialism is the belief that there will be a literal thousand-year reign of Jesus on the earth. On the return of the Lord Jesus to earth at the end of the Tribulation, the Antichrist it defeated and he and the false prophet are cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20). Satan is bound and thrown into the Abyss for a thousand years and Jesus sets up His throne in Jerusalem, from where He will rule with a rod of iron (Ps. 2:9; Rev. 2:27) and a wonderful time of peace will be established on earth. There are numerous prophecies in the Old Testament that speak of a wonderful time of peace under the rule of the Messiah, who will reign from Jerusalem, seated on David’s throne. Psalm 132:11-17; Isa. 2:2-4; 11:6-10; Ezek. 37:24-25 are examples of these scriptures.

Pre-millennialism is the only eschatological interpretation of scripture that includes Israel as an integral part of events leading up to the return of Jesus, and that has the firm belief that God has a plan and a purpose for the nation of Israel and that there will be a Millennial Kingdom. Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum points out that the basis for the belief in a Messianic Kingdom is twofold: “there are the unfulfilled promises of the Jewish covenants, promises that can only be fulfilled in a Messianic Kingdom” and “there are the unfulfilled prophecies of the Jewish prophets.” (1).

Dr Thomas Ice in his paper A brief History of Early Premillennialism points out that in the first 300 years of Church history the most widely held eschatological view of the Church fathers was Pre-millennialism. Examples that Dr. Ice gives of some of these church fathers are:

  • Papias (AD 60-130), a church father who had links with the Apostle John (to whom the Revelation was given) and others who had heard the teachings of Jesus, taught “that there will be a millennium after the resurrection of the dead, when the kingdom of Christ will be set up in material form on this earth”.
  • Polycarp (AD 70-155), bishop of Smyrna was a Pre-millennialist and also a disciple of the Apostle John, being about 30 years old when John died.
  • Justin Martyr (AD 100-165) wrote “But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, as the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare.”
  • Irenaeus (AD 130-200), a disciple of Polycarp wrote a document called Against Heresies which was suppressed by the Roman Catholic Church during the Middle Ages, only coming to light in 1571 after the Reformation. In the document, Irenaeus writes extensively on Bible prophecy, including saying “but when this Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months, and sit in the temple at Jerusalem; and then the Lord will come from heaven in the clouds, in the glory of the Father, sending this man and those who follow him into the lake of fire; but bringing in for the righteous the times of the kingdom”.
  • Tertullian (AD 160-230) made his support of Pre-millennialism clear when he stated “but we do confess that a kingdom is promised to us upon the earth, although before heaven, only in another state of existence; inasmuch as it will be after the resurrection for a thousand years in the divinely-built city of Jerusalem, ‘let down from heaven,’ which the apostle also calls ‘our mother from above;’ and, while declaring that our citizenship is in heaven, he predicts of it that it is really a city in heaven. This both Ezekiel had knowledge of and the Apostle John beheld”.
  • Hippolytus (AD 170-236), being influence by the scripture in 2 Peter 3:8 “with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day,” believed the six days of creation equalled 6 000 years of man’s existence on earth with the seventh day, the day of rest, representing the kingdom period.
  • Lactantius (AD 250-330), wrote a defence of Christianity called The Divine Institutes in which he states “But when the thousand years shall be completed, the world shall be renewed by God, and the heavens shall be folded together, and the earth shall be changed, and God shall transform men into the similitude of angels, and they shall be white as snow; and they shall always be employed in the sight of the Almighty, and shall make offerings to their Lord, and serve Him forever.”

The great theologians of the early church were all champions of Pre-millennialism, looking forward with great hope to the return of the Lord Jesus and the establishment of His Kingdom.

(1)          “Premillennialism in the Old Testament”: http://www.ldolphin. org/otpremill.com

Amillennialism

Amillennialism does not believe in the Millennium period, which is the future rule of Jesus for a thousand years. Amillennialists understand the Millennium to be symbolic, happening now in this present Church age and encompassing the time between the life of Jesus and His future return. They see the reign of Jesus during the Millennium as spiritual, with the purpose of redeeming God’s people from sin and the powers of the devil finally ending with the return of Jesus at the end of the age to establish the New Heaven and New Earth. As Amillennialism denies that prophecy is literally fulfilled; it does not hold to the belief of a Millennial reign by Jesus and therefore sees no special significance for the nation of Israel in prophecy. The first hints of what later would become Amillennialism came from Origen (185-254), who “popularized the allegorical approach to interpreting Scripture and in doing so laid a hermeneutical basis for the view that the promised Kingdom of Christ was spiritual and not earthly in nature” (1).

It was Augustine (354-430) who was to become known as the “Father of Amillennialism.” Augustine moved to Rome in 383 at the age of 29 to debate philosophy. As a lover of Plato, he became influenced by the neo-Platonic philosophy adopted in 325 by the Roman Catholic. Within three years of his move to Rome, Augustine converted to Catholicism and was quick to rise up the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church to become one of its great theologians, establishing Amillennialism as one of its doctrines. Amillennialism, therefore, has its origins in the Roman Catholic Church. Augustine was an anti-Semite, who believed that the Jews carried the “mark of Cain” for handing Jesus over to the Romans to be condemned, brutalised and executed, and for this reason they were cursed by God.

Amillennialism became part of Protestant theology when the Protestant reformers – who rejected the practice of selling indulgences, the Roman Catholic devotion to Mary, praying to saints, celibacy of the clergy and the doctrine of purgatory – did not object to the Spiritualising of the Millennium. Dr. Gary Hedrick in his paper Replacement Theology – its Origins, Teachings and Errors (2) reveals the danger of the Spiritualising the interpretation of prophetic scriptures, by showing that there is a link between Amillennialism and Replacement Theology: “The natural affinity these views (that is, Replacement Theology and Amillennialism) seem to have for each other is understandable because Replacement Theology relies so heavily on a non-literal and allegorical interpretation of the Biblical promises to Israel”. The holding on to the Roman Catholic doctrine of Amillennialism by the Protestant reformers allowed for the belief that the Church is the new spiritual Israel (it supposedly replaces Israel) to enter the Protestant Church, which in turn allowed for Replacement Theology to become part of Protestant theology. Martin Luther (1483-1546), who began the Reformation, held on to the Roman Catholic doctrine of Amillennialism, to the extent that the belief became entrenched amongst his followers. One reason for Luther to reject a Millennium Kingdom rule by Jesus over the nation of Israel was that he was anti-Semitic. Martin Luther believed that Jews should be punished for their rejection of the Gospel of Grace. This includes destroying Jewish homes and synagogues, confiscating money and property, and limiting their freedom of movement. Hitler quoted Luther to convince the Protestants of Germany to follow his anti-Semitic laws

What is important to remember is that the early Church support of Pre-millennialism was eventually squashed by Augustine’s Amillennialism, through the dominance of the Roman Church at the time and its claim to be the New Israel. Even more damming is the fact that Augustine was influenced by Origen, the father of the allegorical method of scriptural interpretation. Also, Augustine like Origen was a Neo-Platonist and was heavily influenced by the philosophy in his interpretation of scripture. A final point is “that Augustine believed the final authority in Christianity was the Church of Rome, not the Bible.” (3).

Post-millennialism

Post-millennialism sees the second coming of Jesus occurring after a gradual Christianization of the world, which is the “Millennium” period, a golden age of Christian moral values. Unlike Pre-millennialists – who see a continual decline and moral decay in humanity, resulting in God bringing judgement on the world – Post-millennialists optimistically believe that the Church will continually advance throughout history, empowered by the Holy Spirit, until the Church attains total victory over Satan and the forces of darkness. Post-millennialists believe that life on earth will become progressively better and that, with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church, they will be empowered to bring in the eternal Kingdom with Spirit-filled evangelism and miracles. Post-millennialism is an eschatological ideology that comes out of Amillennialism, with both beliefs Spiritualising the Millennium. Post-millennialism is sometimes called “optimistic Amillennialism,” as Post-millennialists are seen as Amillennialists who are optimistic about the End Times.

The Roman Catholic Church is Amillennial, but has strong post-millennial leanings. The Roman Catholic Church has a dogma called Temporal Power, which means that the Pope should be in total control of the property and religion of every single person on earth. The Jesuits are the engine driving the Roman Catholic Church towards attaining this Temporal Power, with the ultimate aim of the Pope becoming the world dominating ruler. Another fact that needs to be considered is that it was the Roman Catholic Church that first attempted to become the religious and political leader over nations and governments, establishing a power base in Europe and extending over Western Civilizations.

To complete this feat the Roman Church made concessions to appease pagan opposition to Christianity, adopting pagan beliefs and traditions as part of Roman Catholicism. Further evidence that Roman Catholicism has Post-millennial leanings is the Roman Church’s continual efforts to lay claim to the Holy Land, from the Crusades in 1096 right up to the present day, when the Roman Catholic Church in 1993 established diplomatic relations with the State of Israel and immediately took steps to bring the Old City of Jerusalem under Roman Catholic authority. A final example is the inquisitions (an instrument of the Temporal Power of the Pope), which were the organised massacre of those who did not hold to the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, thus ensuring through bloodshed and terror the Catholic Church remained the dominant religious and political authority.

The danger of the eschatological beliefs of Amillennialism and Post-millennialism is that they not only deny the Millennial rule of Jesus, they also deny the Pre-millennialist belief in the rapture and the seven-year rule of the Antichrist that is referred to as the Tribulation period, where God brings judgement on mankind for rebellion against Him. This seven-year period is also referred to as “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7), because God will also be dealing with the Jews during this time. The key figure during the seven years of Tribulation will be the Antichrist.

The Tribulation as a time of God’s judgement upon mankind – as well as the rapture (the most important warning that the Tribulation period has commenced) – are denied by the Amillennialists and Post-millennialists. The significance that this is exactly what Satan would want cannot be ignored. Not only will Satan be able to hide the true plan and purpose God has for His Church and for mankind, but he will also gain a decided advantage in the ongoing spiritual warfare. God requires His Church to be vigilant and to keep careful watch over His promises and purposes through intercession. The Church is to join Jesus, the Great intercessor, in prayer for the fulfilment of His purpose on earth. The smokescreen of various eschatological beliefs is diluting the intercession of the Church. The heart of intercession needs to beat in rhythm with the prophetic locomotive, which moves progressively forward upon a single track that is defined by Pre-millennialism.

On one of my visits to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, I stopped at the exit and read through the visitor’s book. What was recorded there showed the tremendous effect the museum had on people, the shocking evidence that man could be so inhumane and sadistically cruel to his fellow man. Over and over again were written the words, “This must never happen again!” Unfortunately for the world, the heart of man is desperately wicked and another holocaust will happen again. Even in the last decade Europe, the continent that saw the horrors of the holocaust, has seen a drastic and shocking rise in anti-Semitism. Zechariah 13:8 warns that this increase in anti-Semitism will result in two thirds of the Jews in Israel being killed during the last days of the Great Tribulation.

Not only will the Great Tribulation be a dark time for the Jews, the book of Revelation describes this as the worst-ever time for mankind and a time even more devastating for Christians, who will be persecuted and slaughtered. Revelation 13:7 is very clear that the Antichrist is going to be given “power to make war against the saints and to conquer them”. The Antichrist will use the mark of the beast (Rev. 13:16) to identify those who do not worship him as god, so he can execute them. Surely the horrors of what is to come on the world should warrant that the Church pray for Jew and Gentile believers during this time?

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