THE RAPTURE OF THE CHURCH
Prophecy Studies - No. 4
The rapture of the church of Christ is our subject now. In First Corinthians 10:32, the Apostle Paul mentions three key groups. He says, “Give no offense, either to the JEWS, or to the Greeks [the GENTILES], or to the CHURCH of God.” So far, in our study of Bible prophecy, after establishing the fundamental truth that Jesus is coming back again, we have looked at the Jews (Israel), and at the Gentiles. There are prophetic details related to each of these groups. They will be explored further in later studies. Today, we turn our attention to “the church of God” to see what the future holds for it.
The church is the spiritual body of Christ (I Cor. 12:12-13; Eph. 1:22-23), made up of all those who put their faith in Christ (Gal. 3:26-28) during the period from Pentecost (in Acts 2) to the event called the rapture of the church--which we shall discuss in a moment. (The saved of other ages can be called believers, or saints of God, but strictly speaking they are not “Christians,” and they are not a part of the church.) And though there are many nominal or professing Christians today, it is only those who have been born again by the Spirit of God, through faith in the Saviour (Jn. 1:12-13)--whatever the church “denomination” to which they belong--who truly deserve that designation. They are the "Christ-ones."
There is a phrase used dozens of times in the epistles to describe those who are part of the church, the spiritual body of Christ. They are said to be “in Christ,” or “in Him.” This is a legal term, indicating how God views the Christian and how He therefore treats him, because of his legal standing “in Christ.” It is as though, when we trust in Christ as Saviour, we are clothed in Christ. We have “put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). When God looks at us, from that point on, He sees us, as it were, through Christ, and deals with us as He would His own dear Son.
It is instructive to explore some of the many uses of this little phrase, in order to understand more fully our legal position “in Christ.” For example, we are “one body in Christ” (Rom. 12:5); “new creations” in Christ (II Cor. 5:17; cf. Eph. 2:10); “blessed with every spiritual blessing” in Him, and “accepted” by God in Him (Eph. 1:3, 6); and we are “complete in Him” (Col. 2:10). What great and glorious privileges are given to the child of God! And as members of the body of Christ we can look forward to an even more glorious future. It is that we shall now explore.
INSIGHT: Please begin by reading First Corinthians 15:51-53. In vs. 51 Paul uses a word that has a special, theological meaning. He calls the truths he is about to share a “mystery.” This word means: a sacred secret, previously unknown, but now at last revealed. (What is to happen to the church was unknown and unforeseen by the Old Testament prophets because the Church Age itself was a “mystery” (Eph. 3:1-7).
1) What is the meaning of the expression “we shall not all sleep” (vs. 51; compare Acts 13:36)?
2) Does this mean that we shall forever be trapped in our present weak, sickly bodies (vs. 51)?
3) Why is this necessary (vs. 50, 53)?
INSIGHT: When Christ rose from the dead, He was the same Person. His body even had the marks of His crucifixion upon it. And yet it was a transformed body, a resurrection body--sometimes called a “glorified body.” The Bible promises that when the Lord returns He will “transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21). All that this will mean has not been revealed, but these will be never-aging, never-dying bodies fitted for the eternal kingdom.
4) How quickly will this transformation occur (vs. 52)?
INSIGHT: “Moment” translates the Greek word atomos, which gives us the English word atom. It signifies the smallest possible particle of time.
5) How many of the Christians living at the time of Christ’s coming will experience this (vs. 51)?
INSIGHT: This is significant, as some have suggested only those who are “ready” will be raptured, that carnal Christians will be left on earth to suffer through the Great Tribulation. (This is called the “partial rapture theory.”) But God says “all” who are “in Christ” “shall be made alive” (I Cor. 15:22-23). It is the privilege of “those who are Christ’s,” with no exceptions. (And this was written to a church which Paul severely criticized for sin and carnality within the congregation.)
6) When this transformation occurs for those alive at the time of Christ’s return, what happens to those Christians who have already died (vs. 52)?
7) When will this all happen, according to vs. 52?
INSIGHT: When the nation of Israel journeyed through the wilderness, it was a tremendous task to get everyone organized for the day’s march. A series of trumpet blasts provided agreed upon signals when assigned preparations were to be carried out (cf. Num. 10:1-10). Then, when all was in readiness, the last trumpet sounded. It meant “Move out!” That is the idea here.
Please turn now to First Thessalonians 4, and read vs. 13-18.
8) How is our departure from this earth described in vs. 17?
INSIGHT: In Latin, the phrase “caught up” is rapturo, which gives us the English word rapture. This event is commonly called “the rapture of the church,” when the living saints will be snatched away into the presence of the Lord, in the blink of an eye. Apparently this was causing some anxiety in the Thessalonian church (vs. 13). They wondered, would those who had already died miss this gathering of the saints into the presence of Christ?
9) What two expressions are used to describe Christians who have already died (vs. 14, 16)?
10) Where are these departed Christians now (vs. 14; or see I Cor. 5:8)?
11) What is the order of events for the two groups (living and departed Christians) (vs. 16-17)?
INSIGHT: Notice again the mention of the sounding of the trumpet (vs. 16), along with the announcement of the event by an archangel. In addition, the Lord Himself will “shout.” We are not told what He will shout, but perhaps with the steady advance of evil in the world, the Son of God will suddenly cry, “Enough!” and take His people home.
12) Where will we all meet together with the Lord (vs. 17)?
13) The “clouds” may well be atmospheric clouds. But what else could they possibly be (suggested by Heb. 12:1)?
14) What should be the result of Christians studying the doctrine of the rapture of the church (vs. 18)?
INSIGHT: Theologians speak of the rapture of the church as being “imminent,” meaning it could happen at any moment. There are no predicted events or signs described in the Bible which must come before the rapture. (The significance of the signs Jesus mentions in Matthew 24 will be dealt with in our next study.) It seems clear that Paul was expecting the possibility of the rapture in his own lifetime, since he speaks of “we who are alive...” being caught up. He himself was joyfully waiting for the Saviour (Phil. 3:20), and commends other Christians for watching eagerly for Christ’s coming (I Thess. 1:9-10). James writes that “the coming of the Lord is at hand...behold, the Judge is standing at the door” (Jas. 5:8-9). From these and other such statements we conclude that the catching away of the church could happen at any time. We are to live in continuing expectation of it (Tit. 2:13). Christians should not be looking for the undertaker but for the “Up-taker”!
Next, please read John 14:1-6.
15) What is one purpose for which Christ returned to heaven (vs. 3)?
INSIGHT: The Father’s house is another name for heaven, also called “the heavenly Jerusalem,” “the city of the living God” (Heb. 12:22-23), also “the holy city,” or “New Jerusalem” (Rev. 21:2). In it are “many mansions” (or dwelling places). And we may be assured that each one will be prepared and furnished by the Lord to exactly suit its occupant.
16) What is Christ’s reason for preparing these dwellings (vs. 3; also see Jn. 17:24)?
17) What words in vs. 3 indicate Jesus is speaking of catching up believers to heaven rather than coming down to earth to reign?
INSIGHT: Though we sometimes group them together as both pertaining to the Lord’s return, the rapture and the second coming are distinctly different events, separated by a seven-year period of time. Here are a few basic differences.a) The rapture is imminent (meaning it can happen at any moment), with no predicted signs needed first. But the second coming follows a time of “great tribulation” on the earth, with many signs which must be fulfilled first. b) At the rapture, Christ comes in the air for His church. But at the second coming Christ comes to the earth with His church. c) Christ’s purpose in the rapture is to claim and reward His bride (the church). Christ’s purpose at His second coming is to reward the believing remnant of Israel and set up His earthly kingdom. d) At the rapture, Christ will be invisible to the unsaved of earth. At His second coming, “every eye shall see Him.” e) Following the rapture, Christ will reward His church at His Judgment Seat (or Bema). Following His second coming, Christ will judge the nations for their treatment of the Jews, and then bless believing Israel in her Land. f) The rapture is a “mystery” unknown and unforeseen in Old Testament times. The second coming of Christ to reign is taught extensively in the Old Testament.
18) As to how we are to reach the heavenly mansions described in John 14, what does Jesus say (vs. 6)?
19) Based on the following Scriptures, what is the meaning of the statement, “no one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jn. 3:16; 10:9; Acts 4:12; 16:31a)?
20) How should Christians be affected, if we are living in expectation of Christ calling us to Himself at any moment (Tit. 2:12-13; or I Jn. 3:2-3)? (In other words, what difference should the at-any-moment return of Christ for His church make to our priorities and conduct?)