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 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 seven-year tribulation period.

For reasons that will become clear later, I'm not comfortable using the article "The" immediately in front of the word "Rapture." The Bible talks of multiple past and future rapture events. However it is safe to call the pre-tribulation catching away "The Next Rapture Event."

Who invented the concept of a pre-tribulation rapture event?

God did. Jesus Himself promised a pre-tribulation rapture. In addition, there are many historical rapture events recorded in Scripture, and clear hints of The Next Rapture Event 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:

“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; 26 men’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. 27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now 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. 35 For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 Watch 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 (mid 2013). Nevertheless, we are beginning to see strong hints that the terrible times are very near.

Did you say that multiple rapture events have been recorded in Scripture?

Yes, indeed.

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

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:

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 to the third heaven. 3 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) 4 How 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 Next 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/next Rapture event Jesus wants us to be alive and awake for?

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. 16 For 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. 17 Then 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. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

Notice the key elements in this passage:

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. 2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. 3 For 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. 4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. 5 Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness...9 For 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. 20 Come, 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.21 For, 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:

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

Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together, O nation not desired; Before 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. Seek 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.

Does the Book of Revelation spell out WHEN the Next Rapture Event will happen?

Actually, only Revelation 3:10 speaks directly of a pre-trib rapture event. We discussed that passage earlier.

The Book of Revelation describes several specific and limited raptures during the seven-year Tribulation period, and we will discuss those shortly.

In many other places, the Book of Revelation implies that the Next Rapture Event 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:

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:

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:

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. 37 And 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 of 1 Corinthians 15:

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:

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. 3 And 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.

So when exactly will The Next Rapture Event happen?

Nobody on this side of heaven knows exactly. Jesus Himself said that no man knows the day nor the hour.

However God has ordained a peculiar series of events that are sometimes called Festivals or Feast Days. In His infinite wisdom, God knew that humans usually forget birthdays and anniveraries but seldom forget holidays. So God got established a prophetic timetable tied to holidays. You can read the complete list on Leviticus 23.

To make sure we got the hint, God was fastidious to ensure that the key events of Jesus' first coming happened on feasts clustered at the beginning of the year:

Some scholars believe the Next Rapture Event will happen on the Feast of Pentecost. Their view (to simplify somewhat) is that the Church Age began on Pentecost and therefore should end on Pentecost. This view is perfectly valid, and is one of the two most-likely days that the Next Rapture Event could happen.

As mentioned earlier, the above prophetic milestones are clustered at the beginning of the Hebrew calendar according to the Law of Moses. The remaining three feast days are clustered at the beginning of the seventh month of that calendar.

For reasons only understood by Jewish people, the nation of Israel has chosen to use a calendar that has the seventh month (according to the Law of Moses) positioned as the first month of the year.

Here are the remaining three Feast Days:

To summarize, we can be fairly sure that the Next Rapture Event will happen either on Pentecost or on the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah). But we don't have a clue which YEAR it will be. Various False Prophets arise and definitely proclaim that the Next Rapture Event will happen on a specific day. God is not impressed by their date setting. Hopefully they will repent.

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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