The promise of the universal airlifting of the Church out of this planet into heaven has been the most engaging promise made by Jesus for all of church history. So taken in were the early Christians by this promise that they all fervently believed Jesus would return in their own lifetime and greeted each other by a reminder of that fact. In the same way, Christians of every age also believe that their own particular generation would witness the return of Jesus for His Bride. Even now, no other topic in eschatology elicits more interest than the rapture of the Church.
However, despite its centrality and fundamental importance, the rapture of the Church is not a much-discussed subject these days and that is a mystery. We would rather promote great “Breakthrough Seminars,” “My Year of Arrival,” “Name it and Claim it Bible Expositions” and such like mundane issues. Paul advised the Church in Colossians 3 verse 2 “Let heaven fill your thoughts; don’t spend your time worrying about things down here.” Instead of heeding this, we have majored on issues of survival, career prospects, family responsibilities and even excessive church activities. We are not sparing heaven a thought. I have found that in a church of 4,000 worshippers, not up to twenty persons thought of heaven in the past one week. We should beware.
Jesus is indeed coming back just as He has promised. He is coming to receive His own and they shall remain with Him forever. This is the real hope of the Church. Literally hundreds of millions of people will disappear out of this planet one day soon. Immediately after that catastrophic event, a king of a fierce countenance who understands dark sentences shall arise to rule the world. He will plunge the world into such mass murder, mayhem and destruction that if God does not shorten his days, the entire human race will be annihilated by him.
But to the Church that triumphantly rises with Jesus, it will be – welcome to Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and the church of the firstborn which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new Covenant, and to the merciful truth of God’s eternal grace and redemption. But let’s get back to the promise.
AT THE SUPPER OF SUPPERS
Simon Peter said, “Master, where are you going?” And Jesus replied, “You can’t go with Me now; but you will follow Me later.” “But why can’t I come with you now,” he asked, “for I am ready to die for you?” Jesus answered, “Die for Me? No, three times before the cock crows tomorrow morning, you will deny that you even know Me.”
If you read between the lines of these short discussions, you will see Love, inseparable Love between a Master and his disciple; you will see sorrow, pain, apprehension, disappointment and the prospect of dashed hopes all rolled into one. Jesus is not someone you would afford to be separated from once you have really gotten to know Him. Now, for three and a half years, Peter had seen all that his heart desired in God fulfilled in Jesus. Absolute holiness, purity, wisdom, knowledge and power walked before him as a Person all that time. He saw, he felt, he touched God three and a half years. Every question about life, existence, God and eternity he had desired to ask from his childhood had been more than answered by Jesus. He had seen love, mercy, compassion and the companionship of God at firsthand for three and a half years and now Jesus says He is leaving. Peter could not abide the thought of it. His consuming desire above all else was to be where Jesus was and now Jesus says he could not go with Him. Peter would not take that. He protests his love for Jesus and says He is ready to die for Him. Then comes the most devastating blow of the conversation. “Peter, you will not die for Me. Instead you will deny three times before it is 4:00 a.m. tonight that you ever even knew Me at all.” This certainly tore Peter’s heart in shreds. He sank into His seat at this point knowing there was no useful need to pursue the argument any further. He had heard Jesus speak matter-of-factly like this before and whatever He had said would happen had happened.
This exchange was in the presence of all the remaining 10 disciples and Peter certainly spoke their minds about commitment to Jesus and never wishing to be separated from Jesus for a moment. However, the statement of Jesus that Peter would deny Him shocked every one of them to their marrows. There is no doubt that there was a long silence in the room after this exchange at the last supper. After Jesus had emphatically predicted that Peter would deny Him, a thing none of them would ever dream of doing, add this to the unsolved puzzle of their Star suddenly abandoning them in the lurch and you have a perfect recipe for despair and despondence at that last supper. It, therefore, must have been a silent, sad and sorrowful band of 12 men that rose up from that last supper to go and pray in the garden of Gethsemane about 10 pm that night.
However, the sadness and silence of their sorrowful hearts were suddenly interrupted in the way by these words, “Let not your hearts be troubled, you are trusting God, now trust Me. There are many homes up there where My Father lives and I am going to prepare them for your coming. When everything is ready, then I will come and get you, so that you can always be with Me where I am. If this weren’t so, I would tell you plainly.” Wow! These words continued exactly where His last words left off before they rose from the supper table. “You will indeed face tough and difficult times without Me, but not to worry; all will be well. Do not be troubled, trust Me as You trust God. I tell you plainly, I am going to My Father’s house and that is heaven. There are many living quarters in that place and it is for your sake I am going there now. I am going to ensure your place there and prepare it especially for you. When I am done, I will come again and fetch you. From that time on, you will never be separated from Me again.” This is the promise of love. “If it is not as |I have told you, I would tell you the truth plainly. Now you know where I am going and how you will get there. You can only get there when I come to fetch you, either one by one or the whole bunch of you at once. Your hearts’ desires will be fulfilled forever.”
People of God, this paraphrasing is mine. Jesus’ heart was knit to those of His disciples also and neither He nor they could welcome their separation, but it was expedient for their sakes that He should leave at that time. He left them with the greatest promise they could ever wish to hear and relate to. He would come back to fetch them, He said. If you knew Jesus as those disciples knew Him, you couldn’t wait to see Jesus again after His departure and you would do everything in your power to remain loyal to Him. No wonder only John Zebedee of that original 11 died a natural death. The remainder were either crucified, beheaded, sawn asunder, skinned alive, boiled in hot scalding oil, or burnt at the stakes for Jesus. All these died in faith without receiving the promise; God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us, should not be made perfect.
WE SHALL BE CHANGED
We have inherited this promise which is tied in with the resurrection of the Church. “But someone may ask, ‘How will the dead be brought back to life again? What kind of bodies will they have?’ What a foolish question! You will find the answer in your own garden. When you put a seed in the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. And when the green shoot comes out of the seed, it is very different from the first seed you planted. For all you put into the ground is a dry little seed of wheat, or whatever it is you are planting, then God gives it a beautiful new body – just the kind He want it to have; a different kind of plant grows from each kind of seed. And just as there are different kinds of seeds and plants, so also there are different kinds of flesh. Humans, animals, fish, and birds are all different.
The angels in heaven have bodies far different from ours and the beauty and the glory of their bodies is different from the beauty and the glory of ours. The sun has one kind of glory while the moon and the stars have another kind. And the stars differ from each other in their beauty and brightness.
In the same way our earthly bodies which die and decay are different from the bodies we shall have when we come back to life again for they will never die. The bodies we have now embarrass us for they become sick and die; but they will be full of glory when we come back to life again. Yes, they are weak, dying bodies now, but when we live again, they will be full of strength. For just as there are natural human bodies, there are also supernatural spiritual bodies. (So also is the resurrection of the dead: it is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, there is a spiritual body. KJV) The scriptures tell us that the first man, Adam, was given a natural, human body but Christ is more than that. He is life-giving Spirit. First then, we have these human bodies, and later on God gives us spiritual, heavenly bodies. Adam was made from the dust of the earth, but Christ came from heaven above. Every human being has a body just like Adam’s made of dust, but all who become Christ’s will have the same kind of body as His – a body from heaven. Just as each of us now has a body like Adam’s, we shall someday have a body like Christ’s.
I tell you this, my brothers: an earthly body made of flesh and blood cannot get into God’s kingdom. These perishable bodies of ours are not the right kind to live forever.
But I am telling you this strange and wonderful secret: we shall not all die, but we shall all be given new bodies! It will happen in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For there will be a trumpet blast from the sky and all the Christians who have died will suddenly come alive with new bodies that will never, never die; and then we who are still alive shall suddenly have new bodies, too, for our earthly bodies, the ones we have now that can die, must be transformed in heavenly bodies that cannot perish but will live forever.”
As you can see, this futuristic story is better told by the Holy Spirit Himself. Before we go up to meet Jesus in the air, we shall all be changed physically because flesh and blood such as we are now, or better put, the spacesuit we wear now, cannot survive the power of God’s kingdom. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he says, “But our homeland is in heaven, where our Savior the Lord Jesus Christ is, and we are looking forward to His return from there. When He comes back, He will take these dying bodies of ours and change them into glorious bodies like His own, using the same mighty power that He will use to conquer all else everywhere.” John, the beloved apostle, also testified of this coming transformation when he said, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Dear friends, now we are the children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” Long before these disciples of Jesus wrote of this fantastic promise, Job, the first author of a book in the Bible, said, “If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait till my change comes.” Our change is coming. But back to that promise again.
Jesus clearly promised Peter and the other disciples who were distressed and sorrowful at the announcement of His departure that He will come again to fetch them. How will it happen? As we have already mentioned, He will descend from heaven Himself to do this. He will not send and angel. He will not send cherubim or seraphim. No other principality, power, throne or dominion. It will be Jesus, the same Jesus Himself who will descend from heaven. The one in whose hand is all power in heaven and in earth. He is coming back for us.
His coming will be sudden in the sense that nobody knows the exact hour or day but the general season is known which is surely now. These certainly are the last days, the days of the revival of the Roman Empire; the days that Israel the fig tree began to bud again; the days of unparalleled knowledge and travel; the days the world has been wired up into a global village as a stage for a one-world government. These are surely the days of His coming.
In films and books on the subject of rapture, the coming of the Lord has been depicted as though the disappearance of God’s people will be hidden and unnoticed for several hours, but I believe the trumpet blast will startle the entire planet. As the day of Pentecost (the birthday of the Church) attracted the attention of the world with the noise as of a mighty rushing wind, the glorious ascension of the church will surely attract a greater attention from the world. False religions will turn belly-up immediately and the immediate effect of the rapture will be a massive revival in the community of unserious believers in Jesus left behind. The work of evangelism will be greatly enhanced by special evangelists God will send out at different points during the next seven years following the rapture. These will include angels and Enoch and Elijah. We will return to the issue of the Church in the Tribulation in this article. The passage in I Thess. 4:13-18 that details the specific events of the rapture is an amplification of the promise in John 14:1-3. This passage says, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep for the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 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. Wherefore, comfort one another with these words.”
The Lord Himself shall descend. That descent will be the most extravagant and monumental event the world has ever witnessed. The entire planet will certainly come to a standstill. What the world will see will be such dazzling display of light and the glory of God bestowed upon the ascending Church will lighten the entire planet. There is no doubt in my mind that heavenly music will accompany this dazzling and glorious event, the picture of which will remain etched in the memory of every living soul on the face of the earth before the world descends into the darkest night of its history.
IT HAS HAPPENED BEFORE
The First recording of God taking anyone out of this planet alive is recorded in Gen. 5:24 where the Bible says, “Enoch walked with God: then he was no more because God took him away.” When it happened, this must have been an extremely strange phenomenon for the people of Enoch’s community, but they knew he disappeared and they knew who took him. They also knew the reason why God took Him. He had a definite, verifiable testimony that he pleased God. His community knew for sure Enoch had no grave.
The next time God would take another person out of the earth into heaven by-passing death was in II Kings 2:11-12. “As they were walking along, talking, suddenly a chariot of fire, drawn by horses of fire, appeared and drove between them, separating them and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha saw it and cried out, ‘My father! My father! The chariot of Israel and the charioteers!’” Oh, Sovereign God, what is it You cannot do? God sent a chariot and a whirlwind from heaven and took Elijah away. Elijah also left no grave.
In Acts 1:9 Jesus without chariots or any form of propulsion, in the presence of at least 500 witnesses ascended into heaven. What is beyond God?
The experience of John the beloved apostle in Rev. 4:1 cannot easily be pigeonholed. Whether he went to heaven bodily or in the spirit is not clear. He was on an island called Patmos near present-day Turkey when a voice from heaven summoned him, “Come up here and I will show you the thing that will soon take place.” The next thing he knew he was in heaven looking directly at the throne of God and He that sat on it.
In all the examples we have seen, the power of God propelled individual persons out of this planet and into heaven. But do you indeed realize that every second of every minute since Jesus ascended into heaven, individuals are being “raptured” into heaven from the earth by the same power of God? Paul says in II Cor. 5:8 “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” Literally, what Paul is saying in this verse is “Good night” here on earth translates into “Good morning” in heaven in a moment by the same power of God for every individual who has surrendered his life to Jesus.
However, our concern in this article is with a massive airlift of people into heaven. Did that ever happen before? Absolutely yes! There is a prophecy of David in Ps. 68:18 which says, “He ascends the heights, leading many captives in His train. He receives gifts for men, even those who once were rebels…:” This is a clear reference to the ascension of Jesus into heaven and the events of the Day of Pentecost and the worldwide movement of Jesus’ followers that started on that day. This verse clearly predicts that when Jesus will rise into the air to go back into heaven after His first advent, He would lead people who were known as captives back into heaven. To understand this, you must refer to what happened to the spirit of Jesus immediately He expired on the cross. I Pet. 3:18 says, “Christ also suffered, He died once for the sins of all us guilty sinners, although He Himself was innocent of any sin at anytime, that He might bring us safely home to God. But though His body died, His spirit lived on and it was in the spirit that He visited the spirits in prison, and preached to them – spirits of those who, long before the days of Noah, had refused to listen to God, though He waited patiently for them while Noah was building the ark…” This truth is also mentioned by Peter in I Pet. 4:6 where he again said, “That is why the good news was preached to those who were dead – killed by the flood – so that although their bodies were punished with death, they could still live in their spirits as God lives.” It is plain from these verses that Jesus’ preaching ministry continued in hell after He died. Can you imagine those people tormented by Satan for thousands of years not believing in Jesus when He preached to them? They did believe Him and He took them out of prison on His way out. And so Matthew, one of the immediate disciples of Jesus who recorded these events, wrote in Matt. 27:51-53, “And look! The curtain secluding the holiest place in the temple was split apart from top to bottom; and the earth shook and rocks broke, and tombs opened, and many godly men and women who had died came back to life again. After Jesus’ resurrection, they left the cemetery and went into Jerusalem and appeared to many people there. If we join this passage to the passages of Peter, the picture becomes clear that Jesus released captives of two classes from the underground prison – first, those who He preached to in hell who died from Noah’s flood and second, the righteous people throughout the Old Testament period who stayed in a place called Abraham’s bosom where only a chasm separated the fire compartment from the comfort compartment but those two compartments were underground and both were prisons. These two groups of captives Jesus took to heaven at His ascension. By the special mercy of God, those who had died recently and could be recognized by people living in Jerusalem appeared to their acquaintances and relatives. I do not suppose anyone living in Jerusalem in 33 A.D. could have recognized Abraham if he appeared there over 2500 years after he died. In any case, how do you suppose Peter and Matthew knew these things? No doubt they saw some of those people who resurrected themselves or Jesus explained to them what had happened because He spent 40 days with His disciples after His resurrection and He told them many things before He ascended.
So there has been a massive airlift of scores of millions of people by this same Jesus into heaven at His ascension and if He did it before, it means He can do it again. This truth is finally confirmed for us in Eph. 4:8 where the Bible says, “Wherefore He says, ‘when He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men.’”
A MORE SURE WORD OF PROPHECY
There is one more sure word of prophecy. In Luke 21:36, after giving a long prophecy on the sequence of catastrophic events that will mark the end of this age, Jesus said to His disciples, “Watch therefore and pray that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass and to stand before the Son of Man.” Before His second advent when He will set up the kingdom of heaven on earth, an event that will be presaged by the rule of the anti-Christ, monumental worldwide disasters will take place but Jesus here points out that some people who have prepared themselves shall escape those troubles. This promise that some people will escape these troubles finds parallels in Old Testament scripture portraying the mercy of God upon the righteous. First, Noah and his family were saved from the flood that destroyed every human being on the earth because he found favour in the sight of God. Second, when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, God delivered the preacher Lot and his family. Thirdly, when God rained ten plagues upon the land of Egypt, the land of Goshen was spared. Finally, on the night of the Passover God spared those who were under the cover of the blood. These instances show very clearly God has never punished the guilty with the innocent in His catastrophic judgments.
Jesus in coming for those who are waiting for Him, those who have prepared themselves to welcome Him. As sure as heaven stands, what God has determined to happen must happen. God is dependable; He will not disappoint. He is reliable; He will do what He says He will do. He is trustworthy: we can bet our lives on His word. He is faithful: He will never forsake us or abandon us in a world reserved for His judgment. Our God is immutable; He cannot change. God is transparently honest; with Him there is no variableness nor shadow of turning. Clean out your ears, Church. That trumpet is about to sound.
AS FOR THOSE LEFT BEHIND…
There is no doubt that the rapture of the Church will catch many hypocrites in the Church unaware. Many who now say, “Lord, Lord” but do not do what He says, will suddenly find themselves embarrassed by the double standards they have kept. There is no doubt that many hundreds of millions of those who profess Christ now but live by a different standard will suddenly discover that the Bible is true after all and they will turn to Jesus in repentance. But they will also soon discover that you can believe in Jesus during the seven year tribulation period at the expense of your life. Why is that so? Daniel predicts in chapter 7 of his book that “This fourth animal, he told me, is the fourth world power that will rule the earth. It will be more brutal than any of the others; it will devour the whole world destroying everything in it. His ten horns are ten kings that will arise out of his empire; then another king will arise, more brutal than the other ten and he will destroy three of them. He will defy the most high God and wear down the saints with persecution and change all laws, morals, and customs. God’s people will be helpless in his hands for 3 ½ years.”
In chapter 8 Daniel continues to talk about this most brutal king and says, “Toward the end of their kingdoms, when they have become morally rotten, an angry king shall rise to power with great shrewdness and intelligence. His power shall be mighty, but it will be Satanic strength and not his own. Prospering wherever he turns, he will destroy all who oppose him though their armies be mighty and he will devastate God’s people. He will be a master of deception, destroying many by catching them off guard as they bask in false security. Without warning he will destroy them. So great will he fancy himself to be, he will even take on the Prince of Princes in battle; but in so doing he will seal his own doom for he shall be broken by the hand of God, though no human means will ever overpower him.” You have seen plainly from prophecy that the lawless one, the ant-Christ or the beast will arise at the time of the revival of the Roman Empire to rule the whole world. He is an angry king, having Satan’s power. God’s people made up of Christians and Jews will be helpless in his hands for 3 ½ years. He will devastate God’s people.
In Rev. 13 John the beloved apostle actually saw this beast, this blasphemous world ruler empowered by Satan performing lying wonders including a “419 resurrection.” He will demand worship and constrain everyone to take his number on their forehead or on their wrist. He will forbid buying and selling for anyone not carrying his mark. In verse 10 of this chapter the Bible says, “The people of God who are destined for prison will be arrested and taken away. Those destined for death will be killed.” The point here is, if you are contending with men on foot and they weary you, how are you going to contend with horses? If you stumble and fall on open ground, what will you do in Jordan’s jungles? If you cannot live for Christ now that your life is not threatened, how are you going to cope with the antichrist’s murderous forces? In Rev. 14:9-11 God strictly warns that anyone who receives the mark of the beast will be tormented in the flames of hell forever. Can you now imagine the horrible conditions of life during the tribulation period immediately following the rapture of the Church?
To be left behind at the rapture of the Church will amount to a tragedy of the most monumental proportions. Your life will hang in the balance everyday. You will not be able to buy or sell (if you are truly interested in going to heaven). You will be hunted down like an animal and beheaded or butchered if you do not have the mark of the beast. You will despair of life. Note that at this time also God will rain down from heaven 21 specific plagues of devastating punishment on the earth. You wouldn’t want to be here.
WHAT MANNER OF PERSONS OUGHT WE TO BE
Heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people. Those who will ascend the holy hill of the Lord must have clean hands and a pure heart. They must not have lifted up their heart to vanity (any form of idol worship) nor sworn deceitfully. Those who will find refuge and shelter in God’s tabernacle must live a blameless life and be truly sincere. Without holiness no man will see the Lord. If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, Jesus will not be sacrificed for you a second time. If you live in that way, know that you are reserving the most horrendous judgment for yourself. Those who are afraid to take a stand for Jesus now, those who are corrupt and immoral, those who are encouraging the activities of devils, idol worshippers and all liars will meet their doom in the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.
Be not deceived, whatsoever a man sows that shall he also reap. If you sow unto your fleshly desires, you will reap eternal separation from God. If you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life in the presence of God. Therefore, holiness, righteousness, absolute purity and the fear of God in thought, word and deed are the only conditions for going up at the rapture. Sin will certainly trap you down here. The Lord is placing before you life and death. The Lord is placing before you bliss or doom, maximum joy or irreducible eternal agony, immeasurable glory or everlasting shame. I implore you to choose life.