Revelation Study: Raptures and Resurrections

"Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things." Luke 21:36
Opening Prayer: Father, help us prepare our hearts, that we may know Your truth and be counted worthy to escape the terrible judgments that are coming upon the earth.

By now, you should have read the first four lessons in this series:

Today's lesson is on a very odd and very controversial subject -- popularly called the Rapture of the Church.

What is a Rapture?

For purposes of this lesson, a "rapture" is a "catching away" -- where God supernaturally transports a person or group from one place to another. Bible teachers frequently talk about an event called "The Rapture" where believers in Jesus will be caught up to heaven immediately before the Great Tribulation period.

Who invented the “doctrine” of a pre-trib rapture event?

God did. Jesus Himself promised a pre-tribulation rapture. In addition, there are clear hints in the Old Testament and in Paul’s epistles. Let’s begin our study with our Lord’s own words, looking first at the context of His promise.

Gospel of Luke, chapter 21, verses 25-28:

25“And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring;  26men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  27Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  28Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” (NKJV, emphasis added)

This is a familiar passage. Jesus predicts that difficult times will befall earth dwellers immediately before His triumphal return. Then He tells believers that “when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” From His words, we can safely conclude that alive and awake believers should recognize the prophetic signs and expect some type of deliverance from some portion of the bad times. We learn more from our Lord’s concluding promises in verses 34-36:

34“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. 35For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (NKJV, emphasis added)

From this passage we see that Jesus wants to help us escape all these things. The question is how we will escape. Do you suppose it will be by experiencing physical death before these events? By relocating to some South Pacific tropical island or the North Pole or somewhere else that won’t be hit by nuclear bombs? No, that doesn’t sound like much of a promise. Instead, He implores us to watch and pray that we may be counted worthy to escape all these things. Other passages of Scripture help fill in the details.

Can you guess or remember Jesus’ other promise? Turn to Revelation 3:10:

Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.

What hour of trial do you suppose Jesus meant? Some commentators think that this passage is historical and that each of the 7 letters is symbolic of a particular historical period. They might be partly correct. But the core messages of Revelation 2-3 are timeless for the church of Jesus Christ. And “the hour of trial” that immediately precedes His coming has not yet befallen “the whole world” as of this writing (early 2006). Nevertheless, we are beginning to see strong hints that the terrible times are very near.

Did you say there were prophecies of the next rapture event in the Old Testament?

There indeed are such prophecies, and we will discuss them shortly. But first let’s see rapture events that have already been recorded in Scripture.

·         Genesis 5:23-24 tells (briefly) about the prophet Enoch:

23 And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years: 24 And Enoch walked with God: and he [was] not; for God took him.

·         Another peculiar catching away happens in 2 Kings chapter 2 verse 11:

And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, [there appeared] a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.

In both of these examples, living persons who loved the Lord were supernaturally transported from earth to heaven.

·         Now, for variety, we have the story in Acts 8:39-40:

And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Phillip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Phillip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.

In this situation, Phillip was supernaturally transported from one earthly location to another.

·         Paul describes a peculiar event in 2 Corinthians, chapter 2, verses 2-4:

2I 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 to the third heaven . 3And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) 4How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

Paul relates the story of being translated from earth to heaven, and then back from heaven to earth. The experience was so radically different that he couldn't even tell if he had gone in body or just in his spirit.

Hold it, teacher! All four of these events are different from each other, and different from "The Rapture" you discussed earlier.

Apparently the Lord likes variety. He wants us to know that His power can't be limited by our imagination or by our past experience.

So what's the purpose of this future Rapture Jesus wants us to participate in?

First and foremost, God must put Israel back on the center stage of world events. Israel has always been the focus of God's dealings with the human race. Some of us fortunate Gentiles have come to know and love the Messiah of Israel, and we are enjoying the "times of the Gentiles" since Jesus' day. God must take us out of the way so He can once again deal directly with His people.

Second, God wants Israel to again be His messenger to the world. God doesn't want us Gentiles polluting His message during this period. You and I feel pretty smug, thinking we have all the right answers. But we're a noisy, mixed multitude. And we're not Jewish.

The third reason concerns the nature of God Himself. All our lives, we have seen bad things happening to good people -- and bad people getting rich. We wonder: "Why does God allow this?" The answer is that God is both merciful and just. He will (SOON!) reward the good folk and execute judgment on rebellious sinners. However, in His mercy, He is giving us as much time as possible to (a) come to know His Son, Jesus as Savior and Lord, and to (b) earn eternal rewards by acting in faith on His promises. When that time is finished (SOON!), He will supernaturally take His sheep out of the way so He can get a clear shot at the rebellious goats.

Some key facts of the next future Rapture are in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, verses 15-18:

For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we that are alive, that are left unto the coming of the Lord, shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep. 16For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17Then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

Notice the key elements in this passage:

·         Paul has received direct revelation of this event from God -- "by the word of the Lord." There are Hebrew Scriptures that hint about this event, but don't give much detail. This means that the Holy Spirit must have given Paul prophetic insight into their meaning, so that Paul could speak prophetically to you and me.

·         This event will involve all the saints of God, including those who have graduated from this life and have already gone (in spirit form) to be with the Lord. (Paul mentions this because some of the Thessalonians had the mistaken notion that only those believers still living on this earth would participate in this rapture and that the others would have to wait until the general resurrection later.) As we will see later in this lesson, all of us will receive new, eternal bodies at the instant of this rapture.

·         The Lord Himself will come partway to the earth to call us.

·         The Lord Himself will airlift us to safety.

·         The Lord must be planning to give us new bodies, capable of not only surviving the trip through the earth's upper atmosphere, but also surviving the direct presence of the Lord Himself, forever. Maybe YOU feel young and strong enough to breathe vacuum and live forever, but these tired bones of mine make no such pretense. It was wonderful to receive the "eternal heart transplant" when I was born again 25 years ago. Now I'm anxious to get the body to match. We'll learn more about these new bodies in other Scriptures.

·         We are commanded (not suggested) to "comfort one another with these words."

All these concepts are important, and will help us understand other Scripture passages that we will encounter later.

For now, let's continue with chapter five of 1 Thessalonians and verses 1-9:

But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. 2For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. 3For when they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape. 4But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. 5Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness...9For God has not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,

The context is clear: Paul is talking about the Day of the Lord, as we will cover in another lesson. Without doubt, "sudden destruction cometh upon them," but Christians "are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you..." We are called to be awake and alive in the Lord, because "God has not appointed us to wrath."

I hope you noticed what this passage does and does not say. Paul makes it clear that Christians are not appointed to suffer the Day of the Lord, which is a specific series of events at the very end of the Great Tribulation, immediately before the Lord's physical return to this earth. Paul does NOT explicitly talk about the length of the Tribulation, nor does he state that Christians will escape the entire seven-year period. We deduce these from other Scriptures. However, the clear implication in the second passage is that the rebellious goats are surprised by events that you and I will not have to endure -- IF we are awake and alive in the Lord beforehand.

Did you say there are predictions of a pre-tribulation Rapture in the Old Testament?

Yes there are. The Day of the Lord is a prominent topic in the Old Testament Scriptures. Likewise there are veiled hints that God's faithful remnant will be spared.

The first is Isaiah chapter 26 verses 19-21:

Thy dead [men] shall live, [together with] my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead. 20Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. 21For, behold, the LORD cometh out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain.

Some insights here:

·         First of all, there is a lot to like about Isaiah chapters 26-27, and I encourage you to study them sometime soon. Chapter 26 speaks of Israel's national repentance and of individual Jewish people repenting of their idolatry, as their eyes are opened to their Messiah, Jesus. "O Lord our God, other masters besides Thee have had dominion over us..." (26:13). Chapter 27 speaks of the Day of the Lord and finishes with the Lord being personally worshiped in Jerusalem.

·         Notice that Isaiah is clearly speaking of a resurrection -- a time when "the earth shall cast out the dead."

·         Isaiah calls the departed saints to "Awake and sing" -- so clearly this resurrection is a calling to participate in something worth singing about.

·         The Lord says, "Come, My people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee; hide thyself..." This speaks of a time when His people will be hidden from earthly eyes. This strongly implies that this resurrection event will include more than just the departed saints -- they were already dead, out of sight and out of harm's way.

·         This hiding will be a temporary situation, "...until the indignation be overpast."

·         The context clearly is the Day of the Lord, and this hiding very much resembles the Rapture event we studied earlier.

Another good hint is in Zephaniah chapter 2, verses 1-3:

Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together, O nation not desired; 2Before the decree bring forth, [before] the day pass as the chaff, before the fierce anger of the LORD come upon you, before the day of the LORD'S anger come upon you. 3Seek ye the LORD, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought His judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the LORD'S anger.

This prophecy is especially directed to the Jewish nation ("O nation not desired") to repent and seek the Lord and His Messiah. They (and we) are called to "seek righteousness, seek meekness" -- not just sit passively in a church each Sunday hoping the preacher will finish soon. Seeking the Lord requires conscious effort. If you can't recall making any conscious effort recently, now would be a good time to start.

Are there any clues in the Book of Revelation about the timing of The Rapture?

Actually, the Book of Revelation describes several specific and limited raptures during the seven-year Tribulation period, but only Revelation 3:10 speaks directly of a pre-trib rapture event. In many other places, the Book of Revelation implies that the general Rapture will be pre-Tribulation. The clues are circumstantial, but consistent with the principle of a pre-Tribulation Rapture. The key is that Jesus gave us a simple timeline in Revelation 1:19 when He commanded John to write the things he has seen, the things which are, and the things that will come to pass:

·         After John has seen the initial visions, Jesus gives him seven messages to the living saints in the seven churches -- the things which are.

·         After the seven messages in chapters 2-3, the Church is not mentioned again during the entire description of the Tribulation period down on earth.

·         At the beginning of chapter 4, John is commanded to "Come up hither" to heaven, to watch the events from a safe place. The command "Come up hither" is the logical equivalent of our upward calling at the next Rapture event, but we are not explicitly told that they're the same.

·         In chapters 4 and 5, John sees the 24 elders, who represent all the saints of both the Old and New Testament. John apparently recognizes them as such, because he never has to ask the angel who they are. This implies that a pre-Tribulation Rapture has already happened and these are the saints rejoicing in their eternal bodies.

·         In chapter 6, after the Lamb opens the fifth seal, John sees the disembodied spirits of saints martyred during the Tribulation period. These saints -- who apparently came to a saving knowledge of Jesus, the Messiah, AFTER the pre-Tribulation Rapture -- are told to wait until their numbers are complete. Unlike the 24 elders, they have NOT received resurrection bodies yet, but they will at the next resurrection during the Tribulation period.

·         In chapter 7, a numberless multitude (see below) appear in heaven. Many commentators believe this is the first Rapture, which would include all the saints including John, the author of this book. Yet John doesn't seem to recognize these folks.

Did you say that other Rapture/Resurrection events will happen during the Tribulation period?

Yes. Here is a listing of events in the Book of Revelation that appear to be special-purpose raptures and resurrections:

·         In chapter 7, verses 9-17, John sees a numberless multitude "of all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues." John doesn't recognize them -- a strong clue that they weren't Church people before the first rapture. However an elder informs him that the numberless multitude are those who come out from the midst of the Great Tribulation. The Greek text is clear that they were removed from an event in progress. The text does not specifically say these were all martyred, but these were raptured/resurrected together the souls under the altar in their eternal bodies. This passage does absolutely refute the theory that Christians will need to suffer through the entire 7-year tribulation period.

·         In chapter 11, verses 3-13, John sees the two witnesses get killed by "the beast" and their bodies left in the streets for the CNN cameras to document. Then, after 3 1/2 days, God gives them a private resurrection, they stand to their feet, wave at the CNN camera crew, and zoom up to heaven.

·         In chapter 12, verse 5, the symbolic woman representing Israel gives birth to a man child that is caught up to heaven immediately. Most commentators think this is Jesus, but I'm not convinced. In the textual context, it makes more sense to think the man child represents the 144,000 but we can't know for sure yet.

·         In chapter 14, we see the 144,000 up in heaven so apparently they've received a private rapture/resurrection.

·         Later in chapter 14, verse 13, we read, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." In the very next verse, we see Jesus carrying a sharp sickle. An angel gives commentary on the scene, saying "Thrust in your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe." This appears to be the very last in-gathering of the Lord, as described in Matthew 24, verses 29-31:

29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (NKJV)

·         Immediately after Jesus performs His harvest, we see a very grim reaper perform a very different type of harvest in Revelation 14, verses 17-19:

17 And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. 18 And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe. 19 And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast [it] into the great winepress of the wrath of God.

In the Greek text, the word "another" specifically means "one of a different type" -- to show us that both the angel and his purpose were different from our Lord and His purpose. If our Lord was harvesting souls for wrath and damnation, He would certainly be capable of doing it Himself, on the first pass of the sickle, without "another angel" coming out to finish the job for Him. Therefore it is reasonable to think that the first of these two reapings is Jesus taking a final harvest of souls to be raptured/resurrected before the horrible events of the Day of the Lord.

·         In the very next passage, Revelation 15:1-4 we see a group in heaven that appear to be this last harvest of the Lord:

And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God. 2 And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, [and] over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God. 3 And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are Thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints. 4Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? For Thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before Thee; for Thy judgments are made manifest.

These are NOT you and me. These are specifically described as people who will resist the "beast" and be martyred. And notice they are NOT singing, "Woe is me because I was tormented and killed." They are singing, "Great and marvelous are Thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Thy ways..." They feel very happy to praise the Lord for whatever has happened to them -- horrible as it might seem to our tender sensibilities. We should remember to do likewise as we experience our own trials and suffering.

·         In Revelation 20:4-6 we see the VERY last resurrection before the 1000-year reign of the Messiah on this earth:

4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and [I saw] the souls of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and such as worshipped not the beast, neither his image, and received not the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they lived, and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years should be finished. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: over these the second death hath no power; but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.

This truly is a picture of the last call. These saints (including, perhaps, some of your family and friends) did not respond to the Gospel message before the seven-year Tribulation period began. Nor will they wise up soon enough to participate in the rapture of the numberless multitude halfway through the seven years. But when confronted by the choice of worshiping Jesus or worshiping the Last-Days' Dictator, they will choose to worship Jesus. Their ticket to glory will be martyrdom, as they will refuse to bow to the Last-Days' Dictator. This is an expensive ticket, but a few days or weeks of suffering is definitely better than an eternity of torment.

But WHY would Jesus take multiple groups via multiple rapture events?

I don't know. You should ask Him. But there's a peculiar parable that might help you understand the principle. In Matthew 20, Jesus describes a landowner who hires laborers at different times of day, starting at 6:00 a.m. As the day goes by, he hires other groups, including some just one hour before quitting time. All get paid the same wage. Jesus is making it clear that being saved for 30 years does NOT make somebody MORE saved than somebody saved for 30 minutes.

Salvation is salvation -- a yes-or-no, black-and-white proposition. Heaven is heaven. Resurrection is resurrection. Those of us who spend more time serving the Lord will have more opportunities to accrue the rewards of faith. Those of us awake and alive at the time of the next rapture/resurrection will all receive resurrection bodies, whether we've walked with the Lord for 5 minutes or 5 decades. Those who repent and believe in Jesus during the Tribulation period (and numberless multitudes will do so) will also receive new resurrection bodies.

Tell me more about these "new bodies" that we'll get.

Good question, because some of us have bodies that are pretty worn out already. So it's important to realize that all future raptures will be special types of resurrections. Paul and Phillip still had physical bodies after their rapture experiences, and Lazarus still had a physical body after Jesus raised him from the dead. When Paul, Phillip and Lazarus experienced physical death, their spirits went to be with the Lord but they did NOT receive their new eternal bodies. Jesus, however, did resurrect to His eternal body -- in modern language we'd call Him a prototype, or "proof of concept."

Paul explains about our resurrection bodies in 1 Corinthians 15, verses 35-44:

35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” 36 Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. 37And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.
39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds. 40 There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory.
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.

Our present bodies can't compare with our future, spiritual bodies. Our present bodies are corruptible, un-glorious, weak and natural. The future bodies will be incorruptible, glorious, powerful and spiritual.

Paul talks specifically about the next future rapture in verses 50-55:

50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55“O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?”

Let's look at these verses point-by-point:

·         We cannot inherit heaven in these fleshly bodies -- nor would we WANT to. We need to be changed to different bodies first.

·         Some of us will experience this change AFTER we have experienced physical death and have spent some time with the Lord in our spirits.

·         Some of us will experience this change BEFORE we experience physical death. In an instant, we will have our earthly bodies changed to our spiritual bodies. The trumpet will sound ("Honk if you love Jesus.") and you and I will be gathered up to meet the Lord.

·         If we REALLY believe this, then we have nothing to fear from death -- ours or anybody else's. How can I fear death when I will receive such wonderful blessings on the other side? If some criminal or accident or illness takes my life early, I'll get my rewards sooner than I expected.

The apostle John also talks about our future bodies in 1 John chapter 3, verses 1-3:

Behold, what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not. 2Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. 3And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.

Our bodies look very ordinary now -- despite the spiritual heart transplant that we received when we were born again. But soon we will also have better bodies, capable of seeing the Lord in His glory.

Earlier in this lesson, we read 1 Thessalonians 4:18 where Paul commanded us to "comfort one another" with these Scriptures. John takes the concept a step further. He says that looking forward to our glorified condition (after the Rapture/Resurrection) has a purifying effect on us. Surely it's easier to walk in faith when we keep our short-term problems in eternal perspective.

In conclusion, just remember our Lord's words in Luke 21:36:

Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things.

The Lord Jesus Himself promises that believers who are watching and praying will "...escape all these things." This is exceptionally clear, and it should end all the silly denominational arguments to the contrary.

Just remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:13: "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." Stand tall for Jesus, and bring as many people with you as you can. Jesus will reward you very soon.

Closing Prayer: Lord, I really do want to go up to You in the next Rapture event. Open my heart and mind to see what I must do to be ready and to bring as many people with me as possible. Amen.

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