Chapter 17

When Will The Rapture Of The Church Occur?

We have just seen in Matt. 24:32-36 that our Lord's coming is after the "first birth-pain" or sign of the closing of the age occurs. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but this prediction shall in no wise pass away. But concerning the day and hour of His coming, our Lord declared that no one knew. In fact, He denied that He knew Himself. (Of course at that time He did not know, but now, since He has been glorified and has laid off his human limitations, He certainly knows.) To what do the words "of that day and hour knoweth no one" refer? It can only refer to the Lord's being near, "even at the doors." In vss. 37-41 we shall learn of the conditions that will exist at the time that He comes for the saints.

Analysis of the Prediction

"The coming of the Son of man": According to vs. 37 the days of Noah are analogous to the days of the coming of the Son of man. But when will that coming occur? Noah lived 950 years--what days of Noah are here in review?

Jesus explains more fully what He meant by this in vs. 38: "For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking ..." We are to bear in mind that the Lord confined His comparison to "those days which were before the flood" with those days of the "coming of the Son of man" which are before the terrible catastrophe of the Great Tribulation.

In Noah's day, prior to the coming of the flood, the population of the world was busily engaged in eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage and all the commercial pursuits and pleasures of the day until "the flood came, and took them all away; so shall be the coming of the Son of man."

As the people of the world were engaged in their normal pursuits, they were entirely unaware of the impending crisis of the Flood. So, Jesus said, the people of the end time immediately before the Tribulation will be pursuing their regular vocations and pleasures, unaware of the impending crisis. The days immediately preceding this future outpouring of God's wrath are called the period of "the coming of the Son of man."

This prophecy cannot occur during the Tribulation for its judgments are so very terrific that nothing will be left but chaos by the time it is over. In no sense of the term will the people of that time be in a position to be eating, drinking, buying and selling, planting and reaping, etc. They will be in the caves of the earth, crying out to the rocks and mountains to fall on them and hide them from "the wrath of the Lamb" (Rev. 6:16). Thus the coming of which Jesus speaks in this passage is a coming which precedes the Tribulation. From this conclusion I find no escape.

"One taken, another left": "Then shall two men be in the field; one is taken, and one is left: two women shall be grinding at the mill: one is taken, and one is left." While this quotation indicates that there will be a separation of the people living in the days immediately preceding the Great Tribulation, it does not imply that half of the people of the world will be taken and the other half left. Rather, those who are children of God will be taken; those who have never made peace with the Lord will be left to pass into the Great Tribulation. Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount that the way to eternal life is very narrow and that comparatively few walk therein, whereas the road to everlasting destruction is very broad and wide. These verses must be understood in the light of our Lord's other positive teaching.

In Luke 17:25-37 Jesus spoke of the time of the Rapture as being both at night and in daytime. Two men will be lying in bed at night; one will be taken and the other will be left. And two women will be grinding at a mill; one will be taken and the other left. When the Rapture occurs it will be nighttime in certain portions of the globe, but daytime in others. Jesus gives evidence that He knew the world was round in these statements.

At the time that the Rapture occurs, the people of the world will have a false feeling of security, for before the day of the Lord--the Great Tribulation--the doctrine of peace and safety will be preached. They will think that mankind has solved the problems of human misery and misunderstanding and that civilization has been put upon a firm, unshakable basis without fear of the recurrence of the various ills which have plagued the human family from its beginning.

Then sudden destruction comes upon the unsuspecting world, the Great Tribulation bursts upon the earth. But that civilization will be upon a very low moral plane, as it was during the days of Noah. Everyone will be in the whirl of society, trade and commerce, looking forward to the future without any premonition of what will occur. Then suddenly it will be the day and the hour when the Son of man will come to take His servants out of the world and leave those who are not His servants.

Synthesis of the Passage

This passage teaches that the world will continue to grow more wicked as the end is approached, in duplication of the days prior to the Flood. Indifference to God and His service and a corresponding increase of worldliness and pleasure-seeking will be the order of the day. Those who are faithful to God and who know Him will be taken out of the world and the rest of the people will be left to pass through the horrors of the Tribulation.

Some have seen in this Scripture a reference to the Jewish people rather than the Rapture of the Church, contending that Matt. 24, 25 are purely Jewish in their outlook--in fact, that the entire book of Matthew is purely Jewish. In answer to that position, let me say that as I understand the situation Matthew presents our Lord as King of the Jews; therefore he selected those materials, incidences and utterances from the Lord's lips that would present Him as King of the Jews. However, while Jerusalem and Israel occupy the central position on the stage of this discourse, they by no means monopolize all of our attention. As we have seen, the background of this passage is Zech. 14 along with parallel passages which have a world outlook.

No one would say that the Tribulation is purely Jewish. While Jeremiah designated it as "the time of Jacob's trouble," it is a time of judgment upon all the nations. The reason for this special designation is that at that time the Lord will punish Israel doubly for all her sins, because she has enjoyed such inheritance and blessings as no other peoples upon the face of the globe.

Although Jerusalem and Israel occupy the central position in the Olivet Discourse, the outlook is world-wide. Therefore this reference to taking one out and leaving the other cannot be applied to the separation of the Jewish people at the end of the Tribulation. In fact, 24:32f is spoken to those who witness the first birth-pain--those living prior to the Great Tribulation. Since it was spoken to the Lord's disciples, the language can only refer to those who follow Him in contradistinction to those of the world. The ones taken are Christians who are caught up to be with the Lord; those left are the unsaved who will remain upon the earth to go through the Great Tribulation.

Evidence from Parallel Passages

That the Rapture precedes the Tribulation is predicted in other passages of Scripture besides the Olivet Discourse. Let us examine these now and discuss some of the negative evidence presented by those that disagree with us.

1 Thess. 4,5: We read in ch. 4, vss. 13-18, of the Lord Jesus Christ coming in the air from Heaven to raise the dead in Christ and to catch up the living saints to be with Him--a reference to the Rapture of the Church. When that event occurs, the Church will meet her Lord in the air and will ever be with Him. Wherever He goes she accompanies Him.

In 5:1 the apostle declares, "But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that aught be written unto you." The chapter division is unfortunate here, causing us to lose the continuity of thought. "The times and the seasons" of what? obviously, the times and seasons of the event discussed in the preceding verses--the Rapture. We should remember that chapter and verse divisions were made by men. In ch. 5 the writer is still discussing the translation of the church and begins with a discussion of the time when that event will occur. The same idiom is used in Acts 1:6,7 where it applies to the subject matter that precedes it.

The times and seasons of the Rapture are explained more fully in vss. 2,3: "For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. When they are saying, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall in no wise escape." The "day of the Lord" is the Great Tribulation, which is thus designated in various passages of the Old Testament. The seemingly peaceful and prosperous period prior to the day of the Lord in connection with the times and seasons of the Rapture show that the apostle was speaking of the translation of the Church which immediately precedes the Tribulation.

In his discussion the apostle contrasts Christians, whom he calls "sons of light" with the people of the world--the sons of "darkness"--and places the Christian walk and manner of life over against those of the world. Finally in vss. 8-10 he gives a needy exhortation to the children of God: "But let us, since we are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God appointed us not unto wrath, but unto the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him."

So there might be no mistake as to whether the Christian would enter the Tribulation, Paul stated the situation first negatively then positively: "For God appointed us not unto wrath ..." The word "wrath" can only refer to the day of the Lord which is thus designated in the Old Testament. Then, to avoid any possible misunderstanding, he declared his position in the affirmative manner, "but unto the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ."

He was speaking to people who were already saved and yet he could say they were appointed unto salvation--how could this be? The fundamental idea of this word salvation is deliverance. We are not appointed unto or into this wrath but unto salvation; therefore the word can only mean that Christians will not enter the period of wrath.

How will they be delivered from this wrath? The remaining part of the sentence tells us: "Through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him." These words have the same import as the promise in 4:16,17 concerning the raising of the dead in Christ, the catching up of the living saints and the translation of their bodies at the time of our Lord's descent from Heaven to the air. From this study of 1 Thess. 4,5 we see that the Apostle Paul placed the Rapture of the Church prior to the pouring out of God's wrath.

In 1 Thess. 1:9,10 we also find confirmation of this position. Paul is pleased at the report that the Thessalonians have indeed turned to God and "wait for his son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead,
even Jesus, who delivereth us from the wrath to come." Attention is sometimes called to the fact that the word ek is used in the expression, "Jesus, who delivereth us from the wrath to come." The primary meaning of this Greek preposition is "out of." Some brethren assume that the Church will go into the Tribulation but will be protected while they pass through it. In other words, the Church will be in the midst of God's wrath but will be preserved from its evil effects by supernatural power. This position has been illustrated by the Hebrew children in the fiery furnace. They were in that inferno but the heat and flames did not injure them. Will this passage permit such an interpretation? Before deciding definitely we must get the exact meaning of the preposition. I wish to quote Dr. A.T. Robertson on this point:

apo needs to be compared more particularly with ek which it finally displaced save in the Epirot ach or och. But the two never are exactly equivalent. Ek means "from within" while apo is merely the general starting point. Apo does not deny the "within-ness"; it simply does not assert it as ek does. (A grammar of the Greek New Testament in the light of Historical Research.)

From this statement we see that the primary meaning of
ek is out of. Nevertheless in a number of places this very preposition is used interchangeably with apo, such as in 1 Thess. 2:6. Whenever ek is used, we are to assume that it has the primary meaning of "out of" unless the facts of the context preclude this inherent meaning. However, since we have seen from 1 Thess. 2:6 that they may be used interchangeably, we must examine the context and facts of each case to determine whether we are to understand it with the primary or a secondary meaning.

In the discussion of 1 Thess. 4:13-5:11 we saw that the subject was the Rapture of the Church and that God has not appointed His children unto wrath but to the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. This passage demonstrates that Christians will not enter that period of wrath or be subject to it--they are to be delivered from it. This teaching, stated both negatively and positively, is so clear that it is impossible for one to understand that the Church will enter the Tribulation. Paul's language in 1 Thess. 1:9,10 is to be interpreted in harmony with this plain, unmistakable conclusion, for he would not affirm in the first chapter that the Church is going into the Tribulation but be preserved from harm, then in chs. 4, 5 declare that the Lord will take her out of the world at the Rapture before the outpouring of wrath.

Examining the Negative Evidence

"The last trump": Sometimes our attention is called to 1 Cor. 15:51,52 which says that the Rapture is to be "at the last trump." Those believing the Church is to go through the Tribulation say the trump in this passage refers to the seventh trumpet judgment of the book of Revelation. Usually those taking this position say the seal, trumpet and bowl judgments (Rev. 6,8,9,16) are different representations of the one series of divine visitations which will run through the entire Tribulation. According to this theory, the seals cover the entire Tribulation. Then the trumpet judgments describe the same events under a different representation. Hence the seventh trumpet or last judgment comes at the conclusion of the Tribulation. Since Paul declared to the Corinthians that the Rapture of the Church will be at the last trump, those espousing this position affirm that the saints will go into the Tribulation and will be caught up out of the world only at the conclusion of it.

This method of reasoning may seem satisfying and conclusive to some, but when the facts are learned it is seen to be very superficial. According to the best scholarship Paul wrote the Corinthian letter about 56 A.D. John penned the book of Revelation in 96 A.D., about forty years later. This book claims to be a revelation or an uncovering--the disclosure of that which had never been made known before. Since the trumpet Judgments of Revelation had never been disclosed prior to 96 A.D. and since Paul's statement in the Corinthian letter was written in 56 A.D., it is impossible for us to see how Paul could use the expression "the last trump" referring to something that had never been revealed, not even to himself, and expect the church at Corinth to understand what he meant.

"From one end of heaven to the other": Another objection sometimes urged against the pretribulation rapture of the saints is based upon the mention of a trumpet in the following passages: "And he shall send forth his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Matt. 24:31); "And then shall he send forth the angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven" (Mark 13:27). It is assumed that this trumpet is the one mentioned by the Apostle Paul in the Thessalonian and Corinthian letters and attention is called to the last phrase in each of the two passages, "from one end of heaven to the other" and "from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven." The conclusion is drawn that our Lord was speaking of the gathering together of the departed saints in the heavens and those remaining upon the earth. Hence some students affirm that the Rapture is clearly indicated here as occurring at the time when our Lord reveals Himself in glory at the conclusion of the Tribulation.

At first this reasoning sounds indeed forceful, but upon further investigation it is seen to be fallacious. Already we have seen that during the Olivet Discourse our Lord was thinking in Old Testament terms. His choice of phraseology, illustrations and expressions was largely determined by its language. This being true, we must attach the significance to these phrases and expressions which is found in the Old Testament unless there is positive evidence pointing in an opposite direction. This principle cannot be questioned.

What was the significance of these expressions in the Old Testament? We find the answer in Deut. 4. In vss. 30, 31 Moses foretold Israel's return to the Lord in the days of her tribulation--in the latter time. God will then be merciful to her and will remember His covenant with her. Verses 32-35 begin by Moses challenging the nation to investigate the history of the race, from creation, and to inquire from the peoples of the earth whether there had been any such supernatural phenomenon as that manifested by the Lord in bringing Israel out of Egypt: "Ask now of the days that are past ... and from the one end of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been
any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it?"

In urging them to ask "from the one end of heaven unto the other," Moses referred to the nations--they could not inquire of anyone except the people upon the earth. This phraseology is an echo of the ancient cosmology held by primitive peoples who conceived of the earth as being flat and of the heavens as being a dome with small holes (the stars) through which the light from the sun beamed. The dome of heaven was supposed to touch the earth on the outskirts of civilization. Therefore the common language meaning worldwide was, "from one end of heaven unto the other."

We constantly use phenomenal language today such as "the sun rises and sets," but we do not believe that the sun actually rises or sets. We understand the real nature of the earth and its movements with relation to sun, moon and stars, yet we still speak in the language of primitive peoples.

In Deut. 28:64 Moses foretold Israel's dispersion among the nations, "from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth." Thus in the two passages these expressions occur, yet both of them refer to this earth and have, according to their context, no reference to the heavens as we understand them today.

Since such was the significance of these terms and since our Lord's phraseology was determined to a large extent by the Old Testament language and current usage, we must not import into His statements, especially those idioms, a meaning foreign to that of the Old Testament unless there is positive evidence demanding such a connotation. Since there is none in the Olivet Discourse and since the "elect" in this sermon refers primarily to Israel and since, according to prophetic prediction, Israel is to be gathered from the four corners of the globe to her Land at the coming of our Lord to the earth to establish His Millennial reign, we are forced to conclude that in these verses Jesus was foretelling the fulfillment of Old Testament predictions relative to Israel's regathering, not the gathering of New Testament saints.

Other evidence for a post-Tribulation Rapture is sought in different passages of Scripture, but when the facts of the context are examined, we see that there is no support for this theory.