From the previous post we learned for whom the rapture is inended tobenefit. It is a body called the church. A proper ecclesiology is a necessary foundation to understanding the rapture. Let us now explore what the rapture is.
“Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God. Believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, you may be also. You know where I am going, and you know the way.”John 14:1–4 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
There are many that consider this a rapture passage. It is my opinion that it may be used that way, but there are deeper meanings. It is a promise of Jesus to return for the individual believer and receive them to Himself. In that way, each church saint is promised to see the second coming of Jesus. I see that simply because Jesus used personal pronouns here, and addresses what He says to individuals, not just to a corporate body. (This is easily seen in the King James Version for English readers in the difference between ye and you.) Each of us that are believers need not fear. Jesus is coming for each of us.
This passage serves well as a background to attest that Jesus promises to return for the believing saints and receive them to Himself. He told this to His disciples at the Last Supper. Judas was not present, as Jesus had previously sent him on to the betrayal he had set to do. All that were present to hear this were believers. The rapture is just for believers. That is an important idea to keep in mind.
He is Coming Back.
Now that we know that Jesus is going to return to receive saints to Himself, let us explore and see if there are other details to add to this understanding.
But I would not have you ignorant, brothers, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and arose again, so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will not precede those who are asleep.1 Thessalonians 4:13–15 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
The first epistle to the Thessalonians serves as a major contributor to our understanding of the event called the rapture or catching away. I understand there is some controversy with the word rapture. Let’s examine that in detail in another installment. For now, the word suffices as an explanation.
Now, let’s move to some more background information that can help our understanding of what Paul is saying. This has to do with how Paul did his mission work.
When they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. According to his custom, Paul went in, and on three Sabbaths he lectured to them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I preach to you, is the Christ.” Some of them were persuaded and joined with Paul and Silas, including a great crowd of devout Greeks and many leading women.Acts 17:1–4 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
As he entered a new city, it was Paul’s custom to first preach the Gospel to the Israeli folks in the synagogues. After all, salvation is for everyone who believes, Jewish folk first but also to the Gentile (Romans 1:16.) After preaching to the Israelis in that place, Paul would then preach to the Gentiles. As folks believed, Paul would organize them into a local church. He would remain in the place long enough to teach them all about God. Then he would raise up leaders for that local body and move to a new city.
Paul’s work in Thessalonica was interrupted. There arose great persecution in Thessalonica. Paul had to flee with much of his work unfinished.
But the Jews who did not believe became jealous and, taking some evil men from the marketplace, gathered a crowd, stirred up the city, and attacked the house of Jason, trying to bring them out to the mob. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brothers to the city officials, crying out, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” They troubled the crowd and the city officials when they heard these things. When they had taken a bail payment from Jason and the rest, they released them.Acts 17:5–9 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
We see what Luke tells us in the books of Acts affirmed in Paul’s lengthy introduction in the epistle. Paul recounts the history of the founding of the church. In it, he introduces some things he will expound upon.
For we know, beloved brothers, your election by God. For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance, just as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake. You became followers of us and the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit. Therefore you were examples to all who believe in Macedonia and Achaia. For the word of the Lord sounded out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith in God has gone forth, so that we do not need to say anything. For they themselves declare how we were received by you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead—Jesus, who delivered us from the wrath to come.1 Thessalonians 1:4–10 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
It’s that last phrase that Paul will expand upon later, waiting for Jesus to come from Heaven. Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come. That is a reference to future events, the return of Jesus, and the wrath to come. His resurrection from the dead is cited as the power that delivers. (I know the MEV uses the past tense delivered, but the Greek word is in the present tense.) That said, Paul is setting the idea to be expanded upon.
But we, brothers, being taken from you for a short time, in presence, not in heart, endeavored all the more abundantly to see your face with great desire. Therefore we wished to come to you—even I, Paul, once and again—but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Will it not even be you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?1 Thessalonians 2:17–19 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
Yet again, Paul references a yet future event. Paul was hindered from returning to Thessalonica, and Timothy was sent in his place. Timothy was to encourage them and teach them. Upon returning to Paul, Timothy gave a report. That report leads to the rest of the content of the letter. To help fill in the gaps of their understanding as Paul’s initial ministering and teaching were cut short.
But just now Timothy has come from you to us and brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always have good memories of us, desiring greatly to see us, as we also desire to see you.1 Thessalonians 3:6 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
With Paul’s references to the return of Jesus, the Thessalonians were clearly taught certain things about the rapture. From Acts and the introduction in the 1 Thessalonians, we see evidence of continued persecution of saints in the city. Obviously, some of those saints were martyred, and concerns arose over what happens to those martyrs who won’t participate in the benefits of being caught up alive. This was of obvious grave concern to Thessalonians.
As an aside, I think the concern of those in Thessalonica indicates that Paul unequivocally taught them that the rapture was for the church saints. Their question had to do with saints that passed before the rapture and not getting the new body and meeting Jesus in the clouds.
Paul sets out to assure the Thessalonians that those who are asleep will also benefit from the rapture. They will go before those who are alive. “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” We who are alive will not precede those who sleep in Jesus.
Paul uses the phrase in Jesus to be precise. It can be worded differently such as in Him or in Christ. Paul does use it differently, but the precision is just the same. It serves as a shorthand term that references the believer’s identity or position. That identity is by Spirit baptism into the church or the body of Christ.
For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, whether we are Jews or Gentiles, whether we are slaves or free, and we have all been made to drink of one Spirit.1 Corinthians 12:13 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
The Rapture is for the Body of Christ.
In Jesus is a carefully used phrase to limit the rapture to church saints. These saints dead or alive both receive the benefits of the rapture. There is an order, and those who have passed beforehand have the preeminence in the event, however slight it may seem. It is for those in Jesus.
This brings us right back to the idea of proper ecclesiology. We know that the church most definitely had a beginning of that Pentecost in Acts 2. In my opinion, the rapture will end of the baptism into the body of Christ. Just as the Spirit came down on the saints at the first Pentecost, the Spirit will be raised with the saints alive at the catching away. It is sort of pictured in Jesus’ baptism where the Spirit came down on Him. At His assumption, the Spirit never was taken away. The body of Jesus was caught up in the clouds.
When He had spoken these things, while they looked, He was taken up. And a cloud received Him from their sight.Acts 1:9 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
To my way of thinking, this is a prophecy that is being acted out. The body of Christ is taken up in the clouds. I marvel at such things but read the next verses.
While they looked intently toward heaven as He ascended, suddenly two men stood by them in white garments. They said, “Men of Galilee, why stand looking toward heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you to heaven, will come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.”Acts 1:10–11 — Modern English Version (Thinline Edition.; Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014)
There were (future church) saints promised baptism of the Holy Spirit right there with Jesus. They watched Him taken into heaven in the clouds. Unnamed angels (we presume they are angels) announced to those present the promise of His return in like manner.
It is my contention, the rapture will be the other bookend to the age of church saints as they, like Jesus, will all be removed in the twinkling of an eye. It will be a private event just for church saints, just as Jesus’ assumption was a private event. He will return in like manner.
The Earthly End of the Ministry of the Church
It is the Holy Spirit working in the Spirit baptized body of Christ that now restrains evil and will be removed. In Revelation just after Jesus finishes His letters to the seven churches, John is caught up to heaven (Revelation 4.) The word church doesn’t appear in any of the text in Revelation describing the events of the tribulation (the wrath to come.) The text is then distinctly Jewish in content.
Just as the ministry of the church had a distinct beginning, it will have a distinct ending. I will say, the idea of the church being removed doesn’t change the way people are saved. People can and will be saved by faith after the rapture of the church, just as they were before the birth of the church.