Outliers, the Church, and the Rapture
By Jonathan C. Brentner
As 2018 begins, I feel like an outlier. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines an outlier as “any person or thing that lies, dwells, exists, etc. away from the main body or expected place.” In statistics, it represents an observation that significantly differs from all others.
This feeling of being an outlier comes from so many in the church today who regard anyone who is watching for Jesus’ return as being out of the mainstream. Even pastors who say they believe in the rapture rarely, if ever, mention it in their sermons. Several popular Christian authors and teachers today do not even believe that Jesus is coming anytime soon for His church or that there will even be a time of great tribulation on the earth as described in the book of Revelation.
What we hear instead of watchfulness for Jesus’ appearing is that the church must be about fulfilling the Great Commission as though that excludes all teaching about the rapture, the coming tribulation, the Second Coming, or the millennial kingdom.
I believe Jesus regarded His command to preach the Gospel as inseparably intertwined with watchfulness for His return. Let me explain why.
What Does the Great Commission Tell Us to Do?
Let me be clear, I absolutely agree that the church should be about fulfilling the Great Commission. It’s of utmost importance that we use our gifts and resources to take the Gospel to those who have not heard the good news of salvation. Teaching and building up other believers is an essential element of this as is going to other cultures or nations.
As Jesus stated in Matthew 28:20, “teaching” is also a key aspect of the Great Commission. Specifically, He said that we should instruct new disciples “to observe all that I have commanded you.” We fulfill the Great Commission when we help build others up in the faith through teaching them to obey Jesus and His words.
This is where I begin to sense that I am an outlier. I often get the sense that while it’s okay for me to teach and write about future things, this has nothing to do with fulfilling Jesus’ commission to His church. Eschatology is something reserved for the seasoned believers, aka old ones, and pertains little to what is truly important in following Jesus. I could not disagree more!
What Did Jesus Command Us to Do?
Does Jesus’ instruction for us to teach all that He “commanded” exclude watchfulness for His return or should it be an essential part of what we teach in this regard? I believe it is the latter.
In Matthew 24:44 Jesus said, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” A little later He added this, “Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt. 25:13). In Matthew 24 and 25, Jesus not only commanded His disciples to be watchful and ready for His return but told two parables to emphasize His point. This was not something extraneous or unimportant to Him. Jesus spent considerable time telling His disciples to watch for His return.
Many assume that Jesus is talking about the Second Coming here, but that event does not fit with His commands for readiness and watchfulness. The Second Coming occurs after the tribulation and more specifically, three and half years after the antichrist defiles the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Why would Jesus encourage watchfulness for an event that could not happen until several other things took place?
Jesus’ emphasis suggests that His return could happen at any moment, which coincides with the rapture, but not the than the Second Coming.
The Lord modeled an emphasis on eternity in His teaching. He repeatedly stressed our hope of eternal life and promised to “raise up” those who believed in “the last day” (John 6:40). Martha, in her conversation with Jesus regarding the death of her brother Lazarus, displayed a certainly in a future resurrection that came from listening to Jesus teach (John 11:24).
The “kingdom” of which Jesus proclaimed consisted of both spiritual and future physical components. In Matthew 19:28-29 the Lord said this about His kingdom, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.”
Central to Jesus’ teaching was a physical kingdom where His followers would receive physical rewards for their faithfulness. His kingdom signified a time of renewal “of all things,” which certainly includes the physical world around us and the time when we as His followers will “inherit eternal life.” The kingdom that Jesus proclaimed throughout His time on earth included a physical “renewal of all things” such is what the apostle Paul talked about in Romans 8:18-25.
This hope carried over into the rest of the New Testament as the apostles repeatedly described believers as eagerly awaiting the appearing of the Lord (see Phil. 3:20-21; Titus 2:11-13; 1 Cor. 1:7; 1 John 3:2-3; and James 5:8-9). The New Testament church took seriously Jesus’ command to watch for His return as did the early church.
Jesus’ last recorded words to His church are “Surely I am coming soon” (Rev. 22:20). The word translated “soon” depicts quickness of motion in the original Greek. In other words, Jesus is saying that when He returns He will come quickly. In other words, we need to be watching for His appearing just as He told us to do in Matthew 24.
Several Christian writers and leaders today do regard me as far out of step with the Great Commission. However, as I look at what Jesus proclaimed and commanded as well as at what the apostles wrote, I do not feel like an outlier any more.
I rather see myself as someone who is fulfilling the Great Commission in the way God has gifted and called me to do.