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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

P1 Next Big Thing #2: Catching Away of the Church

1 Thessalonians 4:17 - 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.

Introduction:
All last week we focused a great deal of time on the doctrine that is called "the rapture of the church". We had also mentioned several weeks back that we were going to feature posts that had to do with what we call "next big things" - that is to say - events that will impact every person on this planet. The first "next big thing" we had featured dealt with the subject of: "Death, Hell and Heaven" (link-http://pastormahlon.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-next-big-thing-death-hell-or-heaven.html ).  Truly there are going to be two ways in which a believer in Jesus Christ will be able to exit out of this world: either by death or by rapture. 

When we talk about the rapture of the church, the flagship passages in the Bible that deal with the rapture most clearly are 1 Corinthians 15 in general and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 in particular. There are certainly other passages that we could had to that list that aid greatly in the detail and scope of Paul's teaching in that section. The most fundamental meaning of the word "rapture" is that of "catching away", and so we will use the acrostic "c.a.t.c.h" to navigate through this "next big thing" on the horizon of eschatology (the study of last things). So what can be said about the rapture or "catching away" of the church? May the reader note the following thoughts:

Christ is the rapture's pattern. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14
Paul states in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus." Why is it that Paul ties together the events surrounding Christ's resurrection from the dead to the events surrounding the rapture of the church? Simply put - Whatever Christ experienced as fact, we as Christians can expect to experience by faith and fact. Matter of fact we find the same type of connection in 1 Corinthians 15, where both the events of Christ resurrection and the rapture of the church are mentioned. Note the pattern between Christ and the rapture:

1. Resurrection of Christ who died and resurrection of those who died in Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 23; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14. 

2. Transformation of the living Christ and transformation of those alive in Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:5, 48-51; 1 Thessalonians 4:16

3. Ascension of the transformed living Christ and catching away of transformed and risen saints. Acts 1:11; 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:17

Aim of the rapture: The church. 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17
Notice what Paul says especially 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. 17 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." Who are the targets of the rapture? There are literally hundreds of passages that deal with the second advent or coming of Christ, however there are only about half a dozen or so passages that deal with the rapture. None are found in the Old Testament. Only one is found by way of allusion by Jesus in John 14:1-3. Concerning direct references, we could only classify three main places: Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Corinthians 15:20-58 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Paul indirectly refers to the rapture in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8. When we look at these handful of rapture passages, the one thing common to them all is that the target of the rapture is the church.  In lieu of the Jewish wedding imagery of the 1st century, Christ the bridegroom is going to appear in the clouds to "catch away" his bride so as to take her away to the "Father's house in Heaven". (compare John 14:1-3) Thus the aim of the rapture or "catching away" is the church and the pattern is Christ. Notice next...

Timing: Before the tribulation period. 1 Thess 1:10; 5:9 
When we speak of the timing or placement of the rapture or catching away of the church, we must appeal to other scriptures to guide our thinking.  1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 functions to give us a description of the rapture, with other passages helping us to place the rapture. We know that 1 Thessalonians 1:10 and 5:9 both talk about how God has not appointed the church to have to suffer God's wrath. This certainly does not mean of course that the church will not have to undergo suffering in general, since many tribulations much be endured before entering into the kingdom. (Acts 14:22) However the "wrath of God" is completely different in that the nature of the church is that her Savior has already suffered the wrath of God on her behalf. 

When we turn to Revelation, we cannot make a decisive case for determining the rapture's timing, being that the Book of Revelation does not directly mention the rapture. However the wrath of God is mentioned quite frequently throughout the book, and so by implication we can say who won't be on the earth during the tribulation - namely the church. 

We know that in repeated cycles and sequences, Revelation 6-19 covers the final seven year tribulation period. According to Cruden's Compact Concordance, this period is deemed "God's wrath" (Revelation 6:16; 14:8; 18:3); "day of wrath" (Revelation 6:17); "wrath of God" (Revelation 16:1; 19:15); "His wrath" (Revelation 16:19) and "Thy wrath" (Revelation 11:18).1 The logic is inescapable:

a. Christ's church is not appointed to experience the wrath of God
b. The wrath of God will be poured out during the entire seven year tribulation period
c. Therefore the church will be raptured before the tribulation period

This position is what we call the "pretribulation" view of the rapture. So we have seen the rapture's pattern, aim and timing.

More tomorrow.....

Endnotes:
1. Cruden's Compact Concordance. Zondervan. Pages 557-558

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