Thoughts On Eternity By Jack Kelley Whenever it seems like the whole world is about…
The Revelations of Paul and the Mystery of the Rapture
By Randy Nettles
Did Jesus ‘teach’ his disciples about the Rapture (catching up/harpazo) before his death and resurrection? I think it depends on the definition of teach. The first definition of this word by Meriam-Webster is: to cause to know something. Other definitions are: to impart the knowledge of; to make known and accepted. According to these definitions, I don’t believe Jesus taught his disciples about the future event known as the pre-tribulation Rapture. However, did he mention or give hints about it, without teaching in detail about it? I believe, as well as many others, the answer to this question is yes.
At the Rapture, two earth (and heaven) shattering events will occur according to Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17: First, the dead in Christ will be resurrected (with new immortal bodies) and will accompany the Lord from the third heaven to the second heaven (earth’s atmosphere/sky). Second, the believers in Christ who are still alive at this moment in time will be “caught up” (harpazo/rapio) and translated together with them (dead in Christ) in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. “And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
The Resurrection of the Dead
Jesus was not the first prophet to speak about the resurrection of the dead. Job, the author of Job, possibly the oldest book of the Bible, also wrote about the resurrection after his horrible personal tribulation, “After my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, who I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 26:26-27).
Daniel, in his prophecy of the end time (known to the Jews as Jacob’s Trouble), spoke about God’s people (the Jews) being resurrected at the end of days. “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). This resurrection will occur at the end of the Great Tribulation when Jesus returns to set up His millennial kingdom.
Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet had this to say on the subject: “Your dead shall live; together with my dead body they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust; for your dew is like the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead” (Isaiah 26:19). Many eschatologists believe the next two verses hint at the events that occur at the end of the age (Day of the Lord): the Rapture, Tribulation, and 2nd Coming. “Come my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourself, as it were, for a little moment, until the indignation is past. For behold, the Lord comes out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity; the earth will also disclose her blood, and will no more cover her slain:” (Isaiah 26: 20-21).
Many scholars believe these Old Testament scriptures in Isaiah are “the word of the Lord” that Paul was referring to in his very first explanation (and order of events) of the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17. “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep (dead). For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”
Of course, Jesus taught about the resurrection of the dead, including his own death and resurrection. Jesus predicted his death and resurrection to his disciples three times and they are recorded in all of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). However, most of Jesus’ teachings on the resurrection are recorded in the gospel book of John. “This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him many have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:39-40). Another example is found in John 5:28-29.
Jesus also taught by example with the raising of Lazarus from the dead as recorded in John 11:17-44. One of the greatest truths in all the Bible is given by Jesus to Martha (Lazarus’ sister) before Lazarus’ resurrection. “I am the resurrection and the life, He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). The last sentence is another example of Jesus hinting at the future rapture of the Church.
Jesus’ own resurrection, as recorded in all the gospel books, was the greatest lesson of all regarding the resurrection of the dead. Paul said that Christ has become the ‘firstfruits’ of those who have fallen asleep as per 1 Corinthians 15:20. The firstfruits implies that there is more of the ‘harvest’ to come. Paul then gives the order of the resurrection of the dead. “But each one in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (parousia).
Paul only mentions a resurrection at “His coming.” He doesn’t specify whether it is His coming at the Rapture or His coming at the 2nd Advent. We know from other scripture (such as 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and 1 Corinthians 15:52) that the dead in Christ (Christians who have died since Pentecost AD 33) will be resurrected at the rapture. We also know from other scripture that the Old Testament saints and the Tribulation saints will be resurrected at the 2nd Coming. I believe Paul is “lumping together” the resurrection of the dead at the Rapture and the Second Advent. Likewise, Jesus could have lumped together the two parts of the “coming of the Son of man” during his Olivet discourse (found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke) he had with his disciples.
The Coming of the Son of Man
It’s interesting to me that those who claim the Olivet discourse is referring only to the 2nd Coming use the phrase, “but of that day and hour, no man knows, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Matthew 24:36) as a reference to the Rapture. On the other hand, if the unknowable day and hour of Jesus’ coming is referring strictly to the 2nd Coming, wherein the Bible does it say the same for the Rapture? If it’s not mentioned in scripture, does this mean we can know the day or hour of the Rapture? I think almost everyone would agree that the answer to this question is no. No one will know the day or hour of the Rapture until it happens. Even then it will occur on different days and different hours, due to multiple time zones throughout the world (24 to be precise with about 1 hour difference between zones). Good luck with predicting that!
I believe the answer to this conundrum is that the coming of the Lord, mentioned by the gospel writers and Paul (1 Corinthians 15:20), comes in two parts (a two-part drama, if you will). The first part is at the Rapture where Jesus meets the saints in the clouds and the second part is at the 2nd Coming where Jesus physically returns to the earth. These two parts are separated by at least 7 years (7 year Tribulation), thus it is known as the pre-tribulation Rapture.
Another conundrum in the Olivet discourse is found in Matthew 24:40-41. “Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and the other left.” The two keywords here are ‘taken’ and ‘left’. If one is taken and one left behind at Jesus 2nd Coming, the question arises: which one is taken and which one is left behind? The scholarly theologian, John F. Walvoord, in his book Every Prophecy of the Bible has this to say on the subject: “At the 2nd Coming of Christ, the saved remain (they are left) on earth and the unsaved are taken away in judgment at the beginning of the millennial kingdom. The very word used to describe those taken away in Matthew 24:40-41 is used of Christ being taken away to the cross, obviously being taken in judgment as used here” (per John 19:16).
On the other hand, the learned Bible teacher, Jack Kelley, in one of his teachings (Matthew 24:40-42 – Rapture or 2nd Coming), has this to say regarding these verses: “The Greek word translated ‘taken’ means to receive unto oneself and the one translated ‘left’ means to put away…where believing tribulation survivors are received (taken) into the kingdom and non-believers are put away (left) into eternal punishment.”
So who’s right, Mr. Walvoord or Mr. Kelley? I’m not in the same league as either one of these learned gentlemen to judge, but I do have my own personal opinion. As far as the definitions of these two words are concerned, Jack Kelley is correct. However, I believe the “coming of the Son of man” in these verses are referring to the first phase of His Coming, the pre-tribulation Rapture. The worker who Is taken is the believer who is raptured and the worker left behind is the unbeliever who will be left behind.
Also In verse 37, the comparison is made between the end days and the days of Noah. The days of Noah are a typology of the Rapture. Enoch’s taken away represents the Rapture. “By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, and was not found, because God had taken him, for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5). The great flood, in this typology, represents the Great Tribulation. The evil antediluvians represent the unbelievers who will perish during the Tribulation. Noah and crew represent the remnant believers (Tribulation saints) that survive the Great Tribulation and enter the re-formed earth.
The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins
One last point I would like to make is in regards to the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, that is told by Jesus after the Olivet discourse. I think most everyone understands the typology and symbolism of this parable, so I will just take you to the verse in question, “and while they (foolish virgins) went to buy, the bridegroom (Jesus) came, and those (wise virgins) who were ready went in with him (bridegroom) to the wedding; and the door was shut” (Matthew 25:10). The question is what event is the bridegroom (Jesus) coming for? Well, it’s obvious he’s coming for the wedding; verse 10 confirms it.
The Marriage and Marriage Supper of the Lamb
I think everyone would agree that the bride of Christ (the Lamb) is the Church. When and where does the marriage/wedding of Jesus to the Church transpire? The wedding takes place in heaven after the Rapture, while the Tribulation is coming to a close on the earth and right before the 2nd Coming (Revelation 19:6-8). The marriage supper/banquet occurs on earth after the 2nd Coming. John the Baptist (friend of the groom) and Old Testament saints, as well as Tribulation saints, will be guests at the wedding supper.
I believe the marriage supper will happen on the much-discussed 1335 day after the “in the midst” event of the Abomination of Desolation that Daniel spoke of. “Blessed is he who waits, and comes to the one thousand three hundred and thirty-five days” (Daniel 12:12). John wrote about it in the book of Revelation: “Then he (the angel )said to me, “Write: Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!” (Revelation 19:9). I also believe the feast described in Isaiah 25:6-9 is describing the marriage supper (banquet) of the Lamb. “And in this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of well-refined wines on the lees” (Isaiah 25:6).
Hints of the Rapture in the Gospels
Even though the Lord never gave clear teaching on the Rapture of the Church, he did mention it briefly with these two verses in Luke 21: “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28) and “pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). These are clear hints that the Church will be delivered from the end times judgment by the pre-tribulation Rapture.
He confirmed this in Revelation 3:10, saying, “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.” One day soon, before the Tribulation starts, we will be “caught up” into the sky to meet the Lord. With our new translated bodies, we will be able to stand before the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, in all His glory.
The clearest hint or mention of the Rapture is found in the gospel book of John. I believe the very first mention of the rapture is in John, chapter 11. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). The next mention of the rapture is found in John 14, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believes also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).
Although Jesus referred to the rapture in John’s gospel, he didn’t expound upon it or teach his disciples fully about it. The apostles were both emotionally and theologically unprepared to receive this revelation at this time. They could barely understand that Jesus was going to be killed and then resurrected back to life. They didn’t even fully understand His coming again to set up His millennial kingdom or the timing of such. How could Jesus add to their confusion by revealing the mystery of the rapture at this time?
John didn’t write about these events (and words that Jesus spoke) in his gospel until about six decades after they occurred, and over four decades after Paul wrote about the rapture in 1 Thessalonians. John definitely knew about Paul’s revelation of the rapture through personal contact and his writings, but taking his cue from Jesus, never taught on it.
Before the details of the rapture could be fully revealed, the apostles and disciples of Jesus needed to fully understand Jesus’ previous teachings regarding atonement of sin and eternal salvation (as taught in John 11:25-26; John 6:39-40; and many other scriptures). This could only be accomplished after five things occurred. 1) The crucifixion and death of Jesus. 2) The resurrection of Jesus. 3) The ascension of Jesus back to the Father. 4) The giving of the Holy Spirit to the apostles and Jews. 5) The giving of the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles. Once the Church (both Jews and Gentiles) was formed and the knowledge of God’s saving grace through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, was spread throughout Israel and the surrounding areas, the next plan for the Church (the Rapture) could be revealed.
History of the Gospels
Later, after the giving of the Holy Spirit and the revelation of the rapture to Paul, the disciples would recall the words of Jesus and record them in the gospels and other books of the New Testament. John and the other gospel writers simply wrote on the life and times of Jesus Christ and his three-year ministry on the earth. They concentrated on writing about the miracles Jesus performed and the exact words that he had spoken to the disciples, crowds, and the religious elites in Jerusalem and Israel. Even though they knew about the rapture at the time of writing their books, they never included it in their works; that was Paul’s job, for it was given to him by direct revelation from God Himself.
Paul was the only apostle taught by Jesus after his death. All the other apostles were taught during Jesus’ earthly ministry. At this time, the offer of the kingdom of God was still open to Israel, which they declined by rejecting Jesus as Messiah. The offer lasted until Jesus’ ascension and then it was too late. However, they will get one final chance at the end of the age. Since the Lord didn’t teach about the Rapture during His ministry on Earth, it’s understandable that his disciples didn’t either.
Matthew and John were the only two authors of the Gospels who were actual eye-witnesses to Jesus’ works and words during his three-year ministry. They were also two of the original 12 disciples of Jesus. John Mark was a disciple (not of the original 12) and protégé of Peter who also traveled with Paul during some of his missionary/evangelical trips. He wrote the Gospel of Mark mostly from interviewing Peter. It is believed Mark was the first of the four Gospels to be written (approximately AD 58).
Matthew wrote his Gospel approximately two years later in AD 60. Luke was a Gentile doctor and historian and also a disciple of Jesus (not of the original 12) who wrote his Gospel in about AD 60-62. His account of Jesus’ life came from interviewing Jesus’ disciples and other eye-witnesses to Jesus’ ministry. Luke was also a traveling companion to Paul.
By the time the books of the Gospels were written, Paul had already received the revelation of the Rapture and written about it in the books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians and 1 and 2 Corinthians and possibly others. Thus, there was no reason for the disciples to write about it, as it was left for Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, to write and teach about the pre-tribulation Rapture. Paul was not one of the original 12 disciples of Jesus, but became the apostle to the Gentiles “by the Lord Himself, not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead” (Galatians 1:1). Galatians was probably the second book in the New Testament to be written (James was most likely the first) and the first book written by Paul (approximately AD 49). He wrote it to the churches in Galatia that were founded on Paul’s first missionary journey.
The Conversion of Saul
Paul was encompassed by supernatural events and revelations throughout his adult life. Paul’s Jewish name was Saul. He was from Tarsus and was originally a very religious and devout Pharisee and became a leading persecutor of the church. He was present at the stoning of Stephen, a righteous deacon of the early church, who was the first martyr of the newly formed church in Jerusalem in AD 35.
Saul received letters from the high priest to travel to Damascus for the purpose of arresting Christians in the synagogues there. As he neared the city, there suddenly shined round about him a light from heaven. “He fell to the earth and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, who do you persecute me? And he said, Who are you Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom you persecute: It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 9:4-5). This phrase means that Saul was only hurting himself in his actions because he was rebelling against God. Saul was temporarily blinded by the light for three days. God told him to go into the city and he would then be told what to do.
The Lord told Ananias, a disciple in Damascus, go to the street called Straight (I always wondered if it intersected Narrow St.), and inquire at the house of Judas, for one called Saul of Tarsus. The Lord informed him that Saul had seen in a vision a man named Ananias would come there and put his hand on him, and he would then receive his sight. Ananias questioned the Lord regarding this for he had heard of Saul’s reputation. The Lord told Ananias, “Go your way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:5-16).
Of course, the Lord’s revelation came true. Ananias met Saul, and laid hands on him, and told him that the Lord Jesus had sent him. Immediately Saul received his sight and was filled with the Holy Spirit. He was then baptized and stayed with the disciples at Damascus for several days. “And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that He (Jesus) is the Son of God” (Acts 9:19). Paul claimed as he wrote about in Galatians, that his message in his preaching was by direct revelation from the Lord; “immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: neither went I unto Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and then returned again to Damascus” (Galatians 1:16-17).
Made Alive in Christ
Ephesians was another letter written by Paul that was addressed to the church at Ephesus and all believers everywhere. It was written in approximately AD 60 from Rome, during Paul’s imprisonment there. In Ephesians, Paul speaks of eternal salvation, how to obtain it, and where it comes from. “For by grace you are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast:” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Paul’s special mission to the Gentiles is discussed in Ephesians 3. Instead of paraphrasing Paul’s message, I will let Paul tell you in own inimitable way. “For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, if you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me toward you: how that by revelation He made know unto me the mystery which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the Gospel: whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of God given unto me by the effectual working of His power” (Ephesians 3:1-7).
It was known in the Old Testament that the Gentiles would receive salvation (Isaiah 49:6); but it was never revealed (until the giving of the Holy spirit to all believers) that all Gentile and Jewish believers would become equal in the body of Christ. This equality was accomplished when Jesus broke down the “wall of partition” (Ephesians 2:14) and created the “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15), “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
We will examine Paul’s revelations and more of his writings regarding the Rapture in part 2.