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01/31/08

The Rapture of the Church, fact or fiction? #1


This article is the first one in the series, dealing with the Biblical Truth, the Rapture of the Church - written by Pekka Sartola in his recent work, "Millennium".

The Rapture of the Church
Pekka Sartola

In the previous chapters we have dealt with both God's plan and will in saving man, as well as the practical actions to accomplish it, and its realisers. It is well understandable, that God mainly uses His own people, the followers of Jesus, to carry out His will; the ones that are obedient to His will and Word. There naturally are exceptions - sometimes the Lord has used and will use people, who take a negative view to Him, mainly to execute His judgments. Then it is mostly a question of that, that God allows something to happen, than the motive of His good will to save man. A very good example would be Eze. 38, that tells about the coalition of nations lead by Gog, which will be drawn, commanded and raised to attack against the nation of Israel, but which will be destroyed by God before it is able to fulfill its intentions. We will come back to Gog in the latter pages of this book.

Now we will start contemplating one of the revelations of the Bible, which is likely one of those theological doctrines, that has caused the most of confusion and contradictory opinions. Is there any basis for the doctrine of the Rapture of the Church? Is it a biblically bound, unquestioned promise to wait for, a heresy - or maybe the Apostle Paul and the others have misunderstood the whole thing. Would it anyways be possible to understand the case so, that in a moment of time in the future, an enormous crowd of believers will disappear from the ground of the Earth, in the twinkling of an eye? Together with them, also the believers who have slept in Jesus during the decades will resurrect - is this the way we should believe? The New Liberal School of theological study will pityingly sneer to these things. It holds them unrealistic, at best as some kind of metaphors, and considers those fundamental Christians, that believe in the Rapture, as a little swished. But what is this all about, let's see what the Bible teaches about it in different places.

1.Thess. 4:13-18 "But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words."

 

According to the Apostle Paul, that preceding word has come directly from the Lord; thus it should not be changed in any way. The original word-for-word text is exactly as absolute, however clumsy it might sound. But what does it mean and what we should understand by the word Rapture, or catching up? Are there any other corresponding or comparable words in the Bible, which would literally back up the idea Apostle Paul was referring to in the previous? In this the Greek word harpagesometha – catch up, has been used. In the part of the Letter of Jude, in its verse 23, an event referring to the same root word is mentioned: harpadzontes – pulling out (of the fire).

In Acts, 8:39 there is a recital about the meeting of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Finally, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip: herpasen- caught away (moved to another place). Acts 23:10 describes to us, how the Roman soldiers had to take Paul by force from among the angry crowd: harpasai – take from among (by force, forcibly from among something).

Matth. 13:19 describes with Jesus' own words, how the wicked one can come and and catch away that which was sown in the heart: harpadzei – catch away (steal, snatch something by force). John 10:28 tells, how no man shall pluck the believers out of Jesus' hand: harpasei- pluck out (plunder). Of the Apocryphal Books, the Book of Wisdom, 4:11 uses the term: harpadzo- caught up, referring to Enoch of the OT (Gen. 5:24), who was taken without seeing death. In the Book of Revelation, 12:5, is told about a man child, who was caught up unto God, and to His throne, herpasthe – caught up. In all these passages, the same root word has been used, only in its different conjugations, depending on the context.

 

The Apostle Paul also tells about his personal experience, how he was suddenly caught up into paradise, precisely into the Third Heaven. He wrote about this experience in the second letter to the Corinthians, round 56 A.D., as follows:

Verses 2 and 4 "I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up (gr.harpagenta = is caught up) to the third heaven. -- How that he was caught up (gr.herpage = was caught up) into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter."

 

In both of the mentioned passages, the same root word has been used of the verb harpadzo - catch up. Thus, the Apostle Paul had subjective experience of the Rapture and the terminology related to it, when he wrote about the subject in the first letter to the same church at Corintho and already some years before to the Thessalonians. This Rapture to paradise experienced by Paul was thus dated round 42 A.D., so it is hard to imagine that he would have erred or would have used some kind of strong metaphor when he later wrote about the things related to Rapture.

In these previously mentioned passages, the used verb clearly means a different thing, compared to the one used in relation to the Christ's taking to Heaven. Acts 1:9 word, eperthe - was taken up (while they beheld), Acts 1:11 analeftheis – was taken up from you. For comparison, just one interesting connection: Rev. 11:12 tells about two witnesses, clothed in sackcloth, which the Beast got killed, but who revived and who ascended up to Heaven. The terms used in that connection are: anabate – come up hither, and: anabasen – they ascended up (and their enemies beheld them).

As we can see, the Bible doesn't justify e.g. the thought, that the man child mentioned in Rev. 12:5 would mean Jesus, although that choice has been offered many times, but in my mind it is impossible to fit it in the context. Jesus was not caught up in Heaven in the twinkling of an eye, out from the midst of something, but, as will happen in the case of this man child, He was taken up as His disciples saw Him go into Heaven, similarly as will happen in the case of these two witnesses, also their taking up to Heaven will happen in front of the people's eyes - either via television or physically. Respectively, the return of Jesus will be visible, as was revealed to the disciples: "this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner". That is, to the same place, in a cloud and visible for men.

In a certain moment of the future, in God's timing, a shout will be heard, with the voice of the Archangel, and with the trump of God. Hundreds of millions, died in faith during the decades, will resurrect, having put on the new man, the same as our Saviour had after His resurrection. They will be taken up, and in that same twinkling of an eye, all the born again Christians that are alive then, shall be changed, them too to a similar state, and they shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord. This is the way we should understand the Bible. Let's see what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the same issue.

1.Cor. 15:50-53 "Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality."

 

As a summary of the previous, it must be said, that the Rapture of the believers, the taking up is a biblical truth. The person who denies it, can simultaneously discard his Bible and start searching for himself another way and a self-made truth.

 

... to be continued ...


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