There are differences of understanding regarding the Rapture or "caught up" event as described by the apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17:
"For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord." (NASB throughout unless otherwise stated).
The controversies include the timing, who is taken, will it even happen, etc.
Well, regarding the rapture, I echo Luke's words1 in opening his Gospel account, “it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully …, to write it out for you …”
That there will be an event to which we refer as the “rapture” seems to me to be beyond dispute since it is clearly stated by Paul in the passage above.
The Greek word used for ‘caught up’ is harpazo which means “to seize, catch up, snatch away” (Strong’s Concordance). In the Vulgate, a Latin version of the Bible, harpazo was translated as rapiemur which also means "to catch up." We can see from the similarities that this is the source of our English term “rapture.”
During this “rapture,” Paul tells us that the Lord will come as a “thief in the night,” or when least expected. Since no successful thief comes when expected, the timing of the event is in keeping with the meaning of the Greek word harpazo—to “snatch.”
We will progressively unwrap this topic. I think the issue of timing will fall into place when we identify the reason why a rapture is necessary.
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15.
It is my aim to be diligent to accurately handle the word of truth.
To accurately handle God’s word we need to be clear when reading, and when applying, in knowing who the intended audience was. This is a part of the context, and we know that context is of paramount importance to properly understand scripture. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles,2 was writing to the Gentiles.
In general, we have only two primary audiences to consider:
It is paramount that we include the issue of covenant as we unwrap this topic since God uses covenants as His contract to interact with man.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines a covenant as, “A contract.”4
God obligated himself, by an everlasting covenant—a contract, to Israel for as long as she fulfils the “if/then” clause.
“Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.” Exodus 19:5-6
We read here a continuation of the exclusivity clause of the Abrahamic Covenant, also called the covenant of circumcision,5 which begins with Abram:
“I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.” Genesis 17:7.
“But God said, "No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.” Genesis 17:19.
"You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth” Amos 3:2
The language here is clear, that covenant, being everlasting, is made only with the descendants of Jacob (hereafter “Israel”). It excludes all others.
Prior to this covenant, God treated all the people on earth as one people group. Following this event, the children of Abram (later renamed Abraham), through Isaac and then Jacob, were selected/elected by God and separated to be exclusively His people a group/nation set apart from all others. The only requirements placed upon Abram and his descendants was that they be circumcised6 and that they obey the Torah, which we know as the first five books of the Old Testament.
The covenant was, in essence, that if Israel will worship no other gods then Yahweh will favour no other people but Israel.
"Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God;” Exodus 6:7.
Only Israel could break that covenant, which they later did when they rejected the Messiah, and reinstate it when the time of the Gentiles that soon will come to completion.
Jesus' words and action affirm the exclusivity of that covenant by his response to the Canaanite woman—a Gentile–pleading with him that he should help her daughter:
“But He did not say a word in answer to her. And His disciples came and asked Him [repeatedly], "Send her away, because she keeps shouting out after us." He answered, "I was commissioned by God and sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."” Matthew 15:22–24 (AMP).
“And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” Matthew 15:26.
However, even though Jesus was sent only to Israel, as with Abram and many others, God always responds to the specific requests of individuals who express faith in Him. Here too, Jesus granted her request.
Jesus instructed his disciples saying:
"Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Matthew 10:5–6
Jesus was sent only to those of the house of Israel. This fact should be the basis for interpreting his words in the gospels as being to and for Israel. This principle, that God would adhere to His promise to favour only Israel, is extremely important in accurately handling the word of truth.
As an example of an intended audience, imagine you were in a room with John, Mary, Jacob, and Sue when a parent came in and said, “Jacob I need you to go clean your room right now!” Would you, or all of you, be required to clean Jacob’s room? or only Jacob.
In Act 15 the Apostles gathered to address the need of Gentile Christians to be compliant with the Torah and concluded:
"For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to place on you (Gentile Christians) any greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from [consuming] blood, and from [eating the meat of] things that have been strangled, and from sexual impurity. If you keep yourselves from these things, you will do well. Farewell.” Acts 15:28–29 (AMP) ("Gentile Christians" is my addition).
Their conclusion is crucial in clarifying the continuing distinction between Israelite and Gentile followers of Jesus. It confirms that Gentile Christians are not obligated to the Torah as are the descendants of Israel. The Torah is for and about Israel.
Writing to Gentile Christians in Ephesus Paul writes:
“you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” Ephesians 2:12
How then do we accurately handle the message of the Bible?
I hold it to be true that "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness”7 and that it must be "accurately" handled.8
All scripture is profitable, but not all of it obligatory if it isn’t written to you.
In view of the exclusivity clause of God’s covenant with Israel, consider the following as a general framework by which we examine, interpret, and understand the Bible:
- Genesis 1 to 11 - was written with a focus on all of human kind.
- Genesis 12 to Acts 9* - was written with a focus primarily on true Israel—the elect.
- Acts 10 to Romans - was written with a focus primarily on Christian Gentiles.
- 1 and 2 Corinthians - was written to all the saints but with a focus on the Messianic Israelites.
- Ephesians to Philemon - was written with a focus primarily on Christian Gentiles.
- Hebrews to Peter - was written with a primary focus on Messianic Israelites.
- John to Jude - was written to all the saints—Messianic Israelites and Christian Gentiles.
- Revelation 1 to 3 - was written with a focus primarily on Christian Gentiles—the invited.
- Revelation 4 to 18 - was written primarily to true Israel as "the elect."
- Revelation 19 to 21 - applies to all, finally united as one new man.9
What does this framework mean or how does that affect or clarify our understanding of the rapture?
Since Jesus was sent only to the lost sheep, the true descendants of Israel, the parable of the Wheat and Tares in Matthew 13:24-30 too, must refer only to Israel.
"The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away." Matthew 13:24–25.
Tares, or Darnel, are described by Faussett Bible Dictionary as:
"...impossible to distinguish from wheat or barley, until the wheat's ear is developed, when the thin fruitless ear of the darnel is detected. Its root too so intertwines with that of the wheat that the farmer cannot separate them, without plucking up both, "till the time of harvest." The seed is like wheat, but smaller and black, and when mixed with wheat flour causes dizziness, intoxication, and paralysis.”10
Until it was opened to the Gentiles, the kingdom of heaven was exclusively the future heritage of Israel. Wheat and tares are grains that are difficult to distinguish until they mature.
At the disciples' request, Jesus explains the parable in Matthew 13:38.
This would indicate that within the nation/people of Israel are those who are "sons of the evil one" masquerading as "sons of the kingdom,” “a synagogue” or gathering of Satan’s spawn.
"So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Matthew 13:49–50.
Jesus’ parable and interpretation are repeated in Revelation 2:9 and 3:9 where He refers to “those who say they are Jews and are not.”
Some have used this verse from Matthew 13 to question the pre-tribulation rapture pointing to the fact that the wicked will be taken out and the righteous left. But, because Jesus had, at that time, come only to the lost sheep of Israel the righteous can only refer to Israel and not to the Gentile Christians.
The "end of the age" to which Jesus refers, must be a time when only the descendants of Israel and the wicked remain on the earth, then following Daniel’s 70th week,11 which Jesus’ millennial reign begins. Gentile Christians are neither “descendants of Israel” nor “the wicked.”
Some suggest that Matthew 24:30–31 teaches a post-tribulation rapture, where it reads:
"And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with A great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other."
This is a reference to “the elect” those He selected—Israel—those not given a choice.
"The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples" Deuteronomy 7:7
God chose, selected, yes, elected, Abraham over all others, He picked Isaac over Ishmael, Israel (Jacob) over Esau, Elijah's remnant, David over his brothers, Gideon over the others, the disciples, etc., He has chosen, selected, yes, elected 144,000 from some of the tribes of Israel in Revelation.12 As pertains to Israel, God is selective.
Because God's contract with the descendants of Israel is an everlasting, exclusive, contract He cannot make a similar contract with the Gentiles. For that reason, and because of Israel's temporary breach of contract, there exists a time-limited, open invitation, a new covenant, for the Gentiles to participate in His salvation offering. This is open to whoever, of their freewill, accept the invitation.
Both doctrines of salvation—election and invitation—are biblically accurate when applied to the correct audience and both are wrong when incorrectly applied.
This gives new understanding to the verse in Matthew 22:14 (NASB) "For many are called, but few are chosen." or perhaps "many are the invited but few are the elect."
The descendants of Israel are the elected, whereas the Gentiles are the invited—for a limited time.
Matthew 13 tells us that, “the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous.”
Some have suggested that this is the rapture. If that were so then why would Paul tell the Thessalonians, and us, that the rapture is for the “dead” and “those who are alive and remain” who are “in Christ.”
The confusion leaves when we understand Daniel’s prophesy.
The Prophet Daniel (in chapter 9:24) was told that Seventy weeks (of years) "have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place."
It is known that 69 of those 70 weeks have been fulfilled to the point of Jesus crucifixion. The last week of years (1 week is 7 days which symbolizes 7 years) will commence when Jesus is finally recognized as the Messiah. The purpose of that week is to finally complete God’s discipline on Daniel’s people—Israel, Jacob’s children. As with the preceding 69 weeks, this last week is a time of hardship designed to bring Israel to repentance as they acknowledge their sin.
Earth’s timeline is governed by Israel’s covenant relationship with God.
That last week of years is known as the tribulation period is focused on Israel. It is also called the time of "Jacob’s trouble" since it’s purpose for Israel is “to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place.” Israel will be saved by it:
“Now these are the words which the Lord spoke concerning Israel and concerning Judah:…Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it.” Jeremiah 30:4, 7.
In scriptures, this week of years is divided into two periods13 of 3½ years or 1260 days each which some have labelled the first as the time of the wrath of the anti-Christ followed by the second as time of God's wrath.
Please note, this is clearly identified as an event that focuses on Israel and Judah, the 10 tribes and the 2 tribes respectively which comprise the original 12 tribes.
There are three main positions related to the timing within a 7 year time of Jacob’s Trouble.14 They assume that all seven years represent tribulation with the last three and half years being the really tumultuous ones presentative of God's wrath.
I believe that the confusion and the timing of two of these positions come from a failure to correctly identify the audience to whom these things were written—more on that coming.
What is seldom, if ever, addressed is the reason for a rapture event. Why have a rapture? Is it necessary, does it have a purpose, or is it simply a display of power?
How do the three positions on the “rapture”—Pre-Tribulation, Mid-Tribulation, and Post-Tribulation—stand up to purpose?
"So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will throw them into the furnace of fire" Matthew 13:49–50
Some point to the Olivet Discourse to support this Post-Tribulation position, where it reads:
"And he shall send forth his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." Matthew 24:31 ASV.
But this refers to a gathering of his elect. We already identified the elect as being Israel alone.
A rapture would seem to be redundant at the end of Jacob’s Trouble since the tribulation is over and there would seem to be nothing from which to rescue those who remain. In fact, references to that end-time position suggest it will be the wicked that are taken out prior to His reign, leaving only the righteous to be rescued, but from what?
The Mid-Tribulation position at least offers a purpose. If the last half of the Tribulation period represents an outpouring of God's wrath then a rapture in advance of that would satisfy scripture where the letter written to the Gentile Christians reads, "we shall be saved from the wrath of God" (Romans 5:9 ). Israel however, though not a recipient of God’s wrath, would remain on the earth during that period as they had during Egypt’s experience of God’s wrath.
However, this timing would pose a breach of contract for God as we will see.
The Pre-Tribulation position also has a purpose if Jesus' words to the angel of the assembly in Philadelphia pertain to the end times:
“Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth." Revelation 3:10.
In other words, this assembly (ekklesia) did not require testing or proving—in neither the first half nor the second half of the 7 year period. Their commitment was known to be genuine.
In the Gospels, Jesus gave no reference to a rapture event as described by Paul to the ekklesia in Thessalonica. It would seem to be strictly a Gentile Christians event. His words in the Gospels are specifically given only to the lost sheep of Israel.
I'd like to posit a reason why a rapture event is a necessity.
It is rooted in a mystery...
"For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in;" Romans 11:25.
Throughout scripture “Israel” is clearly identified as those who trace their lineage to one of the 12 sons of Jacob, whom God renamed Israel, hence, the descendants of Israel. In Revelation the 144,000 are identified by their connection to one of the tribes of Israel. This is significant in that there are those (the Ashkenazi and/or Kahzari perhaps) who identify themselves as “Jews” but have no tribal connection.
This is very significant since those who prove not to be “Jews,” i.e. are in fact “Gentiles,” and have not accepted Yeshua as their Messiah will find themselves in a dreadful position after the “fulness of the Gentiles” have come in. No more Gentiles can be admitted. God will not legally be able to show them favour.
Paul writes15 of the hardening of the hearts of the descendants of Israel and the presence of a veil that prevents them from seeing Jesus as their Messiah.
Romans 11:20 tells us that it was Israel's unbelief and partial hardening that provided the opportunity for the Gentiles to be saved. If Israel had not rejected Jesus, the Gentiles would have no opportunity to be saved. Daniel’s last week would probably have just followed the 69th week and seven years after the day that Jesus was not crucified would be the start of His millennial reign—with only Israelites as His kingdom.
However, Israel rejected God’s Messiah and the Gentiles were given an opportunity—the time of the Gentiles—to experience God’s favour until Israel is saved.
"For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery…that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved." Roman 11:25–26.
That being true, will Israel's eventual repentance and acceptance of Jesus as their Messiah bring an end to that opportunity for the Gentiles? What then will happen to those Gentile Christians? That is what the term "time of the Gentiles" refers to and that "the fullness of the Gentiles" has been achieved. God would be in breach of His covenant if He showed favour to anyone other than Israel after their covenant is re-established.
In contractual terms, and repeated many times in the Old Testament, God made a covenant, a contract, with Israel that He was to be their God and they were to be His people, to the exclusion of all others:
“...do according to all which I command you; so you shall be My people, and I will be your God” Jeremiah 11:4.
It was Israel's rejection of God, the Son, which broke the covenant and provided the opportunity for God to extend His favour onto the Gentiles. Will it be Israel's acceptance of God, the Son, as their Messiah, which closes the door to the Gentiles? Is God then contractually obligated to favour only Israel? Must He abandon the Gentile Christians or be in breach of His covenant with Israel?
In this event, the rapture has two purposes.
1) If all Gentile Christians were removed from the earth, just before Israel comes back into the covenant relationship with Yahweh, God will not be in breach of His original covenant since there will be no Gentile Christians left behind.
2) The event of Lot and his family16 gives us the principle that before God can judge the nations the righteous need to be removed. With the descendants of Israel back in the land of Israel and no Gentile Christians in the nations, His judgement on those nations can begin.
The “rapture” has purpose!
With the Gentile Christians out of the way Daniel’s 70th week, the time of Jacob’s trouble can commence to fulfil the time allotted “to make atonement for iniquity”. During this 7 year period there would be only two people groups on the earth—true Israel made righteous by the Messiah and the wicked. This fulfils Jesus’ words in Matthew 13 and 24:
“the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous”.
“then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and … His angels … will gather together His elect”.
The millennial reign of Jesus begins.
Although having a correct understanding of the rapture has no bearing on our salvation Paul did reveal this mystery as a means by which we could find comfort.
As the end of this age approaches, we face the increasing anger and desperation of the evil one as his days also draw to a close.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 Paul tells of the restraint—the rapture perhaps?—that triggers the last week events:
"And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only the restraint will do so until taken out of the way.”(my translation)
The degree to which we are affected by the anger of the evil one lies in the hands of the one who loves us more than His life. In that too, we can take comfort until His return.
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