Thursday, September 29, 2011

When Christians will defy gravity

Acts 1:9 - And when he (Jesus) had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.

1 Thessalonians 4:17 - 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.

What is the "rapture"
    We saw in the last blog the truth of resurrection.  The resurrection of believers at the end of the age occupies one of the eight "definites" outlined in part one of this particular blog series on eschatology.  As we consider the Lord's return, another doctrine surfaces that has connection to the resurrection of believers - namely the believer's catching away by Christ or what is called  "The Rapture".  The word "rapture" comes from a Latin term "rapturo", which in turn is a translation of the Greek word from the original language of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 - "to be caught up". 

The reality of the rapture
    Almost no one disputes the reality of the rapture or "catching away" of Christians at Christ's return.  With His return will come the total and unmingled wrath of God on this world.  1 Thessalonians 1:10 reminds us that Christians do not have to worry about enduring God's wrath.  Clearly the rapture, much like our physical resurrection, has direct connection to the Lord ascending into Heaven in Acts 1:9.  No doubt the miraculous ascent of Christ will be repeated corporately in the life of every Christian.  If a Christian has already went to be with the Lord, upon Christ's return, that saint will be resurrected in a new body and then raptured, followed immediately by the living saints' bodies being transformed and raptured.  1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 gives us the fullest treatment of this mass miracle.  Other passages too give hints to the details surrounding this event in passages such as Matthew 24; 1 Thessalonians 5; 2 Thessalonians 2 and 1 Corinthians 15:50-57.

The question about the rapture's timing and occurence
    As we can include this doctrine in the definite doctrine of the believer's resurrection, we do have one area of which there is no consensus - namely the rapture's timing.  If you will recall, we gave three categories of doctrine: definites, positions and opinions.  In regards to the timing of the rapture, we would have to state that a number of opinions exist as to when it will occur. 

Pre-trib, Mid-trib or post-trib?    
    Three major opinions exist as to when the rapture will occur.  Many Bible teachers point to a period of time in which God's wrath will be unleashed upon planet earth that is called "The Great Tribulation".  From texts such as Daniel 9:23-27, we come to realize that this period will last 7 years.  Questions of course center around whether or not the church will be raptured "before", "mid-way" or "towards the end" of this period.  The opinions are respectively referred to as "Pre-trib", "mid-trib" and "post-tribulationalism". 
    If space permitted, we could appeal to many texts to rally support for each of these opinions.  Being that the Lord has purposely inserted a "mystery" element into the chronology of prophetic events, piecing together the sequence of events on Bible prophecy can prove challenging.  The reader is encouraged to look at passages such as Matthew chs 13 and 24-25; Daniel 9:23-27; Jeremiah 30; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and ch 5; 2 Thessalonians 2 and Revelation 3,6,7,14 for further study.  I will let the reader determine from the scriptures where they fall on this issue.

Some further observations about the tribulation   
    The one thing all three opinions have in common is that all who engage in such a discussion are Pre-millennialists.  A-millennialists and Post-Millennialists tend to view the tribulation period as either having occured at the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D or as a general reference to the "tribulation" all Christians suffer for Christ through the church's history.  Views such as these are called "Preterism" (which is a word meaning past) and use such texts such as Matthew 24 in an attempt to rally biblical support.  Though some respectable Bible teachers hold to these views, this author is not a preterist (believing that the tribulation occured in the past).  As always, our reasons for holding truth lies not in who holds them, but whether or not the Bible teaches such things.   

So why does the rapture matter?
    1 Peter 3:15 states - "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear".  The point of any definite doctrine, position or opinion on prophetic matters is to give reasons to the world why Christianity alone possesses hope for the here and hereafter.  Every Christian should have a good enough understanding of what they believe to help unbelievers see the hope of Christ.  This includes where one stands on the rapture. 
    Whether or not I believe the next big event is the rapture, the revelation of the anti-Christ or some major war does have immediate bearing on how I will live.  Being able to grapple with questions about the problem of evil and suffering, tsunamis and starving children are examples as to why it is our responsibility to live out our theology and have a living theology.