Summary: Lots of ideas about the rapture. What does Scripture explicitly teach? Introduction to a series of talks on this subject.
God’s Garden is overrun with weeds. To get to the fruit can be a time-consuming work, but certainly it is worth the effort. What theoretically could be a wealth of comfort and joy for God’s people has become a morass of complication. But no wonder. Both Jesus and Paul introduced their teaching about these matters with the same warning:
Matthew 24:4b, “Take heed that no one deceives you.”
II Thessalonians 2:3a, “Let no one deceive you by any means.”
If God has warned us of the possibility of deception, it follows that much deception is “out there.” Look around. Every imaginable theory of His coming can be found in one book or another. Yet we are commanded not to be deceived. There must be a way to obey this word. That way is to pray, wait, study the original teachings of the prophets and apostles, wait, compare Scripture to Scripture, wait. Patience is the key ingredient in finding the perfect will of God. Teachers can take us so far. Study and prayer will take us all the way there but not by tomorrow morning. Keep digging, keep waiting, keep listening. Be wise. God wants us to get this, and all His issues, but they take time. There is no fast food in God’s Way. Even our salvation came slowly, slowly, as God prepared our heart, perhaps for many years. Avoid the quick fix theologians. Dig it out piece by piece.
Why Study This Issue?
Before defining terms, these comments about why we even need to talk about the catching up of the Church. Let me start by sharing words of the beloved apostle Paul , words of comfort to the Thessalonian Church :
I Thessalonians 4:17-18, 5:10-11, II Thessalonians 2:2, 16-17: “...thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words….whether we wake or sleep we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other…(do) not be soon shaken in mind or troubled...may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself...comfort your hearts…”
What was going on in the Church there that so shook the believers and elicited this shower of comfort? Well, someone was circulating the false teaching that Jesus had already come, and that they, the Thessalonian Church, had been left behind. The letters making the rounds actually bore Paul’s signature! (II Thessalonians 2:2) Paul rapidly does away with that notion and any similar notion for all time by giving to the Church a sign of Jesus’ coming, the very same sign that was given by Jesus Himself in Matthew 24: The entrance of antichrist into the Temple of God and the subsequent desolating conflict that follows.
II Thessalonians 2:3b, “...that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who...sits in the temple of God.”
Compare this to what Jesus said in response to his disciples’ request for a sign. “What shall be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?” they asked. The answer:
Matthew 24:15, 16, 21, “...when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place...flee...for then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.” Jesus (or is it Matthew through the Spirit? ) adds: (24:15) “Whoever reads, let him understand.” So this is not primarily for the persons who experienced 40 years later the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, but for those who will in generations to come read this prophecy and try to make sense of it, for the sign is still ahead of us. Titus and company did not fulfill this prophecy!
In order for this event to occur, there must first be an antichrist, and a Temple for him to enter. The antichrist, called “the man of sin,” is still in earth’s future. As for the Jewish Temple, it has been in the planning stages on earth, let alone Heaven, for many years, and will rise when the time is near.
And the rise of antichrist will be made possible when there is an atmosphere on earth that is so foreign to the things of God that he will be welcome. Paul calls it in II Thessalonians 2:3, the “falling away” and here he uses a word from which we derive the word “apostasy.” It is a negative word, a word connoting revolt and rebellion, much like the description of the days of Nimrod in Genesis and Josephus.
Paul sees an entire world basically unconcerned about God with only pockets of on-fire believers here and there, a church given over to this world culturally, musically, and all the rest, including the world's basic philosophy. So the professing church will help to create a vacuum which antichrist will fill. Oh what manner of men we ought to be! It is not a time for letting go, but for going deeper and deeper into the love, holiness, power, and revelation of God.