Thoughts On Eternity By Jack Kelley Whenever it seems like the whole world is about…
Revelations of Paul, & the Mystery of the Rapture – Part 2
By Randy Nettles
Saul, whose name was later changed to Paul, was converted to Christianity in AD 35. By AD 40 there were thousands of converts to Christianity and most of them were Jews. This was about to change, however, and it started with a man named Cornelius. Cornelius was a Gentile Roman centurion, and is described as a devout man and one who feared God. One day in a vision, an angel of God came and spoke with Cornelius. Acts 10:3 says this occurred in the 9th hour of the day (the same hour of the day that Jesus died on the cross). The angel told Cornelius to call the apostle Peter to his house.
The next day, Peter had a vision from God in which he was commanded to kill and eat unclean animals. This occurred in the 6th hour (the same hour of the day Jesus was put on the cross). “But Peter said, ‘Not so Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.’ A voice spoke to him and said, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common’” (Acts 10:14-15). This was done 3 times and then the vision ceased. Notice the use of the multiples of the number 3, which connotes divine perfection.
Afterwards, while Peter was wondering what this vision meant, the 3 men whom Cornelius had sent arrived at the house where Peter was staying and inquired of him. The Spirit told Peter to arise and go with them, doubting nothing, for He had sent them. The next day, Peter traveled with the men to meet Cornelius. As Peter proclaimed the gospel to Cornelius and his family, he realized the meaning of his vision; God was calling both Jews and Gentiles to Christ. While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those of Cornelius’ household who heard the word. The Jews who had come with Peter were astonished because they heard the Gentiles speak with tongues and magnifying God. Peter commanded the Gentiles to be baptized in the name of the Lord.
In AD 43, the church in Jerusalem, sent Barnabas to minister in Antioch, Barnabas went to Tarsus to bring Paul back to Antioch to minister with him there. Paul and Barnabas spent the next year teaching the believers in that city. Later the two men were commissioned as the Church’s first missionaries. In AD 44, King Herod Agrippa 1 began arresting Christian leaders, starting with James, the brother of John. James was the first apostle to be martyred. He was executed with a sword. Peter was also arrested, but was miraculously delivered from prison. The persecution in Jerusalem grew, and believers fled to Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Syrian Antioch. The dispersed Christians brought the gospel with them and the Church grew and spread despite great persecution. Soon after that, God struck down Herod, for his exceeding sinfulness.
The book of James was written by Jesus’ half-brother. It was the first book of the New Testament to be written, in approximately AD 45. The order in which the books of the New Testament were written is a topic of much scholarly debate. Here is the order I believe is most accurate: 1) James-AD 45 2) Galatians-AD 49 3) 1 Thes.-AD 51 4) 2 Thes.-AD 52 5) 1 Cor.- AD 56 6) 2 Cor.- AD 57 7) Romans- AD 57 8) Mark-AD 58 9) Matthew-AD 60 10) Luke-AD 60 11) Ephesians-AD 60 12) Colossians-AD 60 13) Philemon-AD 61 14) Philippians-AD 62 15) 1 Timothy-AD 62 16) Acts-AD 62 17) 1 Peter-AD 63 18) Hebrews-AD 63 19) 2 Peter-AD 64 20) Jude-AD 65 21) Titus-AD 66 22) 2 Timothy-AD 67 23) Rev.-AD 95 24) John-AD 95 25) 1 John-AD 96 26) 2 John-AD 96-100 27) 3 John-AD 96-100.
In AD 48, the leaders of the church in Antioch held a prayer meeting in which the Holy Spirit showed up. As they were worshipping and fasting, the Holy Spirit told them to prepare their two prominent leaders, Paul and Barnabas, for missionary work to proclaim Christ and plant churches. The church prayed over the men and laid hands on them and then sent them out along with John Mark to preach the gospel of Christ. Their first missionary journey started in Syria and then on to Cyprus and Perga where John Mark left to return home against Paul’s wishes. The two men continued on to Galatia, and the cities of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. They eventually returned to Antioch and reported to the church there that God had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles (Acts 13:1-14:28).
Many Gentiles became Christians as a result of Paul and Barnabas’ missionary work. However back in Jerusalem, some Hebrew Christians responded by insisting the new converts obey the law of Moses (including circumcision), which they thought was necessary for salvation. After hearing of this, Paul and Barnabas returned to Jerusalem to meet with the other apostles. This meeting of the apostles in Jerusalem became known as the Jerusalem council and occurred in AD 49. Paul, Barnabas and Peter all testified that both Jews and Gentiles are saved by faith (by the grace of God) in Jesus, apart from keeping the law.
James, the half-brother of Jesus, was the leader of the Jerusalem church at this time and announced the council’s decision that Gentiles were free from the law and was not necessary for salvation. This decision reinforced the inclusion of Gentiles into the church. Some 16 years after the crucifixion, James explained what Jesus had told the disciples in Matthew 21:43 when he said, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” James spoke up and said, “Brothers, listen to me. Simon (Peter) has described to us how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out from them a people for His name” (Acts 15:13-18).
The Greek word for “to take” is ‘labein’, which means to receive, lay hold of, take. The Greek word for the preposition ‘from’ is ‘ex’, which means from out, out from among. This passage reveals a slight hint of the Rapture as it conveys the idea of carrying away, removing or taking to one’s self. Do you think the Holy Spirit had a part in inspiring these particular words that James spoke and which Luke later recorded in the book of Acts?
James then said, “And with this the words of the prophets (Jeremiah 12:15 and Amos 9:11) agree, just as it is written: “After this (after the taking out of Gentiles), I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up, so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the Lord who does all these things” (Acts 15:15-17). The apostles and elders, with the whole church decided to send Paul and Barnabas, with Judas and Silas (who were also prophets) back to the Gentile brothers in the churches of Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. They carried with them a letter from the church of Jerusalem which declared the decision of the Jerusalem Council.
Paul’s second missionary journey lasted from AD 49 to 52 and is recorded in Acts chapters 16-18. While Paul and Silas (and later Timothy) had gone through Phrygia and Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. That night a vision appeared to Paul, where he was persuaded that the Lord had called them to preach the gospel in Macedonia (Greece). While Paul was traveling from country to country, he wrote 1st and 2nd Thessalonians. He wrote 1 Thessalonians to the church in Thessalonica urging them on through their persecution (earlier Paul had to leave Thessalonica because of this persecution).
It is in 1 Thessalonians that Paul first mentions the Rapture, while he is commending them for their faithfulness. “And how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thes. 1:9-10). It’s not clear what Paul is saying here at this point in time, but with latter scripture we learn the “wrath to come” is a phrase for the Tribulation that Jesus will save (rescue) believers from by means of the Rapture.
The next mention of the Rapture is found in 1 Thes. 2:19. “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.” The coming (parousia) Paul is referring to here is the Rapture and not the 2nd Coming. Paul regards the believers in Thessalonica as his “crown of rejoicing”, because he sees them as trophies of the victory of the gospel which he preached. The crown of rejoicing is one of 5 crowns that will be rewarded to believers in heaven (at the Judgment/Bema Seat of Christ per 2 Corinthians 5:10) for their faithfulness.
This is further expounded upon in the next chapter. “So that He (Jesus) may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (at the Rapture) with all His saints” (1 Thess. 3:13). We will discover who these saints are in the next chapter.
These three references to the Rapture are clarified in Paul’s full revealing of the Rapture in 1 Thes. 4:14-17. This is the first time the Rapture (catching up) of the Church (both living and dead) is taught in detail. “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.” This revelation was proclaimed as truth from God with Paul’s words “by the word of the Lord.” The Rapture was a mystery unknown in the Old Testament times until the Lord finally revealed it to Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles.
The Day of the Lord
Coming immediately after Paul’s revelation concerning the rapture of the church, it is natural to want to know when this will occur. In 1 Thess. 5:1-11, the apostle does not give times and dates but instead speaks on a much larger doctrine of scripture, the day of the Lord. The day of the Lord is a time of special divine visitation from the Lord mentioned often in both the Old and New Testaments. Paul declared, “But of the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction comes upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.” (1 Thes. 5:3). So why does Paul start speaking about the day of the Lord immediately after his revelation of the Rapture? The answer is: the Rapture is the start of the day of the Lord. Like a thief in the night, who comes without warning, the Rapture will occur and the day of the Lord will begin.
“The future period of God’s intervention in the world will begin at the Rapture and will include the period of trouble preceding the 2nd coming of Christ and the establishment of God’s kingdom in the earth. The day of the Lord also include the millennial kingdom. The entire period before and after the 2nd coming of Christ will constitute a special divine intervention and rule of righteousness on the earth in the way that is not being experienced in the present age. The teaching that the day of the Lord does not begin until the 2nd coming is refuted by the fact that it includes the great tribulation. Joel made it clear that the day of the Lord included the great tribulation before the 2nd coming (Joel 2:28-3:2). The time of restoration of Israel (Joel 3:16-21) following the great tribulation is related to the 2nd coming and will be fulfilled in the millennium.”
1 Thes. 5:3 refers to the start, middle, and end of the 7 year Tribulation. “Peace and safety” refers to the start of the Tribulation when the Antichrist confirms a 7 year covenant with Israel and the many. “Sudden destruction” comes upon Israel and the elect when the Antichrist breaks the covenant at the mid-point of the covenant (3.5 years) and persecution of the Jews begin. Israel will not escape their Great Tribulation until Jesus returns at His 2nd Coming.
However, the Lord has other plans for His church, “For God has not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him” (1 Thes. 5:9-10). Pauls’ prayer for the church at Thessalonica and believers everywhere (and for all generations) reads as follows, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming (the Parousia of Christ at the Rapture) of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and also will do it” (1 Thes. 5:23-24).
In 2 Thes. 1:6-10, Paul describes the 2nd Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and what it will be like in that day, “since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.”
In 2 Thes. 2, Paul is writing another letter to the church at Thessalonia. In response to a mistaken belief (by false teachers who were spreading “fake news” – some things never change) that the day of the Lord had already begun. The church was being persecuted at this time so it is easy to see how they could fall for this lie. This alarmed the Thessalonian church because they had understood Paul to say they would not be in this time of trouble because they would have been raptured before it began. The Thessalonians would have thought they had missed the Rapture because they weren’t really saved.
Paul wrote, “Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him (at the Rapture), we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come” (2 Thes. 2:1-2). Paul had to remind the Thessalonians about the chronological order of the day of the Lord. “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (2 Thes. 2:3-4).
The “falling away” are the English words used in the King James (and New K.J.) translation of verse 3. The Greek word is ‘aposasia’ and means apostasy, rebelling, or departure. The root word from which it comes, ‘aphistemi’ means to withdraw or remove. There are two theories on what this falling away or departure means in relation to the timing of the day of the Lord. The first theory is that their will be a great falling away or departure from the faith in the Lord before the Antichrist is revealed.
The second theory is that the falling away/departure will not be spiritually but physically, as in the rapture of the Church. Those who claim that the falling away is the Rapture, believe that these verses back it up. “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.” (2 Thes. 2:7-8). The “He who restrains” is the 3rd Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. He will be removed (partially), or taken out of the way, when the church is raptured. Unrepentant mankind will then reap what they sow…the whirlwind (chaos and destruction)!
Soon after the Rapture, the Antichrist will be revealed by his confirming a 7 year covenant with Israel and the many. When he breaks the covenant at the mid-point of the covenant, and proclaims he is God, there will be no doubt he is the Antichrist. Because the coming of the lawless one is according to the working of the power of Satan, and he can perform miracles, signs, and lying wonders, the unrighteous will fall for his unrighteous deception, because they did not receive the love of the truth that they might be saved. “And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thes. 2:11-12).
The unbelievers who are left behind after the Rapture will continue in their sin of unbelief and will not accept the truth regarding Jesus and the Rapture. Instead they will believe in the lies, deceptions, and signs of the Antichrist and the false prophet and will share in the fate of the unholy trinity…Satan, Antichrist, and false prophet.
In 1 Corinthian 2, Paul speaks about a mystery of a wisdom of God that has been hidden throughout the ages. “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:7-8). Paul’s reference to the “rulers of this age” is not to the Romans or the High Priest in Jerusalem, but to Satan and his demons.
Jesus called Satan the prince of this world three times in the book of John (12:31, 14:30, 16:11). Paul called him the god of this age in 2 Cor. 4:4. Paul is saying that if Satan and his minions (both demonic and human) knew what the consequences of Jesus’ death were (salvation to all believers, both Jews and Gentiles), they would have done everything possible to prevent the crucifixion. By resurrecting many saints at the time of his resurrection (Matthew 27:52-53), Jesus proved He was the Son of God and had power over life and death for all of mankind.
Once Jesus arose on the third day, Satan realized he was a defeated foe. This realization was probably accompanied by a memory; a memory of long ago (about 4000 years) in the garden of Eden when God gave the very first prophecy after the fall of mankind. “And I (God) will put enmity between you (Satan) and the woman, and between your seed (the Antichrist) and her Seed (Jesus the Son of man); He (Jesus the Son of God) shall bruise your head, and you (Satan) shall bruise His (Jesus) heel” (Genesis 3:15).
Yes, Satan had (only) bruised the Son of man’s heel, due to the resurrection of Jesus on the third day. Jesus will destroy the Antichrist and eventually Satan will be cast alive into the Lake of fire (with the Antichrist and false prophet). The evil one knew at this point that God’s prophecy will be completely fulfilled and he will eventually be destroyed. He knows God’s word will always come true, and yet he tries in vain to prove God a liar. He has undertaken an impossible task…a fool’s errand, for God cannot lie. He is the embodiment of truth.
This is another reason why Jesus never teached on the doctrine of the Rapture before the church was established and the Holy Spirit given. Jesus did not want Satan to know about the supernatural beginning of the church (with the giving of the Holy Spirit to believers) and he certainly didn’t want him to know about the church’s supernatural end at the “catching up” of both the living and dead in Christ at the Rapture. A good general never gives away his battle plan.
Paul, quoting Isaiah, had this to say about what the future holds for those who put their faith in Jesus Christ: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9). I think Paul is referring to the many mansions (in the New Jerusalem) Jesus was talking about in John 14:2, where He will take us to after the Rapture. I actually like the way Isaiah put it: “For since the beginning of the world, men have not heard nor perceived by the ear, nor has the eye seen any God besides You, who acts for the one who waits for Him (at the Rapture?). You meet him (in the air?) who rejoices and does righteousness (Christians?), who remembers You in Your ways” (Isaiah 64:4-5). Isaiah didn’t know about the doctrine of the Rapture, however he was aware of the rewards for those righteous saints who obey the word of the Lord.
Of course once Paul revealed the mystery of the Rapture to the apostles and the rest of the world, Satan became aware of it as well. Satan, like the rest of mankind, doesn’t know the day or hour of the Rapture. All he knows for sure is that it will precede the end times judgments and will take place when the church reaches its full number (per Romans 11:25). Only God knows what that number is. All Satan can do is play defense and try to keep as many people as possible from hearing and responding to the gospel. He also creates division in the church regarding doctrine and the timing (or belief) of the Rapture.
After the Rapture, Satan and his seed, the Antichrist, will play their part in God’s unfolding drama (plan) known as Jacob’s trouble. They will not be able to escape their fate when they encounter the Son of God, Jesus Christ, as He returns to the earth as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
There is more to come regarding Paul and his revelations, including the Rapture, in part 3.