The Rapture According to Jesus Christ
By Pete Garcia
Not many years ago, famed Reformist and Partial-Preterist theologian R.C. Sproul authored a book entitled “The Last Days According to Jesus Christ”. In it he states that “I am convinced that the substance of the Olivet Discourse was fulfilled in AD 70 and that the bulk of Revelation was likewise fulfilled in that time period” (page 158). Unfortunately, his view is not unique within Christendom.
From the fourth century onward, the dominant eschatological view within Christendom had been built upon Augustine’s teachings that the Kingdom was a spiritual one which was already in effect. By the time Augustine had come to some renown, Israel had not existed as a nation for the better part of 300 years. Much of Augustine’s teachings were used as the foundation stones for the budding amalgamation between pagan Rome and Roman Christianity…which later came to be formally known as the Roman Catholic Church (RCC).
With the decline of the Roman Empire, the RCC became the prevailing force dominating Europe and parts of the Middle East for the next thousand years. It wouldn’t be until the 14th century that an awakening began to take hold for those who wanted out from underneath the oppressive Roman Catholic regime. Men like Jan Hus, Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe, and later Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Huldrych Zwingli did much too course-correct Roman Catholicism’s abusive and errant stray from true, biblical Christianity.
But one of the leftover doctrines that did not get reformed was that of Christian Eschatology. The Reformers all but kept the same teachings that were first propagated by Augustine that the Kingdom was now. Unfortunately, Augustine’s influence continued to have a significant impact on Martin Luther and John Calvin who were the fathers of the newly flourishing Protestant movement.
The only major difference between the Reformers and the RCC Papists was who actually was running ‘the Kingdom’. Obviously, the RCC thought they were since the Pope himself was supposed to be the ‘Vicar of Christ’ on earth. The Reformers later began to view that if anything, the Pope was not the ‘Vicar of Christ’, but rather the ‘Antichrist’. What they did agree on was that the Kingdom was already in effect, the Jewish people were no longer God’s chosen, and that most of prophecy had already been fulfilled.
Given their time-frame (circa 14th-17th centuries), who could blame them? Christendom had just emerged out of the Dark Ages. Israel hadn’t existed as a nation for over a 1,000 years. Life moved at the speed of horse. Technological advancements had just given the world the printing press. The Ottoman Turks were the rising power in the Middle East. Roman Catholic domination over the politics in Europe was fracturing, and a whole new world was being discovered and exploited.
The early Protestant Reformers may have had cause to think the way they did eschatologically speaking…but what excuse does the R.C. Sproul types have today?
The world went through two great wars and a Nazi Holocaust causing six million Jewish deaths. Israel became a nation again miraculously after almost 1,900 years. The world has progressed faster technologically and educationally speaking, than the previous twenty centuries combined. Pestilences, earthquakes, wars, national and ethnic strife, violence, and starvation are increasingly amplifying. The world population has reached over seven billion, while at the same time the world is teetering on economic collapse…but somehow the first century was worse than the twentieth? (Matt. 24:21-22)
Christian theology is chock full of doctrines, teachings, insights, and various other topics that have seemingly become more and more controversial over the past two millennia. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about spiritual gifts, eternal security, the Trinity, Sabbath day worship, baptism, Communion, tithing, etc…If there is a topic-Christians of every stripe and flavor have found a way to argue and divide over it. But perhaps none have been as controversial as the doctrine of the Rapture of the Church.
The Apostle Paul didn’t invent the doctrine, (Gal. 1:11-12) rather he simply expounded upon what the Lord had already said concerning it. 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 (1 Thess. 4:15). So regardless of denominational history, church dogma, creeds, early church father views, etc.…Jesus has a theological position on both the Rapture and the Second Coming, and I promise you it’s not Augustinian.
The Rapture of the Church vs. the Second Coming
The first thing we have to realize is that Christ’s Second Coming is broken up into two parts…the Rapture (Harpazo-catching up) of His bride the Church (1 Thess. 1:10; 4:13-18, 1 Cor. 15:51-56)…and His return to earth with His bride the Church…at the Triumphal Return as chronicled in Zech. 14:3-5, Matt. 24:29-31; 26:64, Jude 1:14-15, Rev. 1:7; 19:11-14. These cannot be the same event because of the numerous and glaring distinctions juxtaposed against each other. (Differences chart)
Critics of my aforementioned statement (Second Coming in two parts) fail to recognize that the Jews of Jesus’s day had that exact same problem concerning Christ’s First Coming as these critics now have with His Second Coming. They (first century Jews) thought the Messiah would come kick the Romans out and usher in the Kingdom right then and there. What they failed to see in the Old Testament (but what we Christians now clearly see with Scriptural hindsight) is the two separate comings of the Messiah…first as the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, and later as the conquering King. (Isaiah 53, Dan. 9:24-26, John 1:29, Psalm 2, Zech. 10, 14)
We (proponents of the Pre-Tribulation view) recognize that Jesus does talk extensively about the events leading up to and including His Triumphal Return, but that does not diminish nor deny that He also talks about His return for the Church first.
Days of Noah vs. the Olivet Discourse
The first mention of the concept of the Rapture in the Gospels is found in Luke 17:26-30. In it Jesus likened the time of His return to that of the days of Noah and Lot-a world which was largely carrying on as if it didn’t have a care in the world. In fact, He went out of His way to emphasize the sense of normalcy surrounding these events despite their OT pinning’s. Were they in massive tribulation prior to the flood, or in Sodom and Gomorrah’s fiery hailstorm? No…life was normal. Incessantly wicked and violent yes, but normal in the sense that a frog cooking in a pot doesn’t realize the water it’s in is being boiled until it’s too late. (Gen 6, 19)
People were going about their normal lives…and then calamity struck. Jesus could not be possibly referring to the events inside the 70th Week of Daniel primarily because after 21 divine judgments are unleashed, the world is forever changed. Those judgments cause half the world’s population to die, large percentages of the ocean and fresh water to turn to blood, the sun supernovas, then goes dark, people are struck with sores, and the Two Witness’s perform unbelievable signs and wonders, etc., so there leaves little possibility for ‘normal’ inside the seven-year Tribulation.
The Olivet Discourse on the other hand is what most people automatically go to when they want to get Jesus’s view on the last days. The Synoptic Gospels-Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 all carry a variant of the Olivet Discourse. What often gets ignored, is that each of the Gospels, aside from John’s Gospel, is given different perspectives on the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus because they are geared toward different audiences.
Matthew: portrays Christ as the rightful Heir of David’s throne with very Jewish overtones…has the Olivet Discourse. (Written circa 50AD)
Mark: portrays the servanthood of Christ and is written with a Gentile audience in mind…and has the Olivet Discourse. (Circa 68AD)
Luke: portrays the humanity of Christ and is written with a Greek audience in mind…has the Olivet Discourse. (Circa 60AD)
John: portrays the deity of Christ…is the last gospel written well into the Church era and does not have any version of the Olivet Discourse. (Circa 85AD)
Wait…did John forget to put his version of the Olivet Discourse in there? He was one of the attendees after all (Mark 13:3). Maybe he knew he was going to write the book of Revelation later in life (95AD) and decided to save it till then…oh wait…he didn’t know that either. (Did he know he was going to get banished to the Isle of Patmos under Domitian?)
Hmmm…I wonder why John didn’t record a variant of the Olivet Discourse. Why would John leave out one of his Lord’s longest and most prolific discussions? Well, it is because the Holy Spirit instructed him not to. Instead, he records the Upper Room Discourse (John 14-16)…which was taught exclusively to the eleven disciples. Instead of recording wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, pestilences, etc.…John records the comforting words that Christians of every generation could take solace in.
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe 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
Jesus (being God in the Flesh) knew before He ever came the first time that His second would not be a singular event. Rather it would be two events, both of which bestow a special place of honor for His bride the Church. It is not that we the Church are deserving of any such honor, but only because Christ shed His own divine blood for us and that we are the Church He built (Matt. 16:18-19). We are the pearl of great price in the parable in which the merchant sold all He had to purchase it (Matt. 13:45-46).
Now R.C. Sproul and many other subscribers to the Amillennial, Post-Tribulation Rapture, and Preterist views consider the Olivet Discourse to be the be-all, end-all description of the last days, but they do so neglecting many other passages that fill in the gaps of Jesus’s macro-view of the last days. While they might disagree on when those last days actually occurred (Post-Trib sees future) while Amillennialist and Preterist look to past fulfillment (circa 70AD), what they miss are the clear distinctions between the two future comings. The conundrum is this; if it’s already all happened, why watch and be ready? If I’m destined to go into the worst period of human history and I can’t change anything about it…why am to take comfort in that? For those who think we need purification, why aren’t they missionaries in North Korea at this very moment boldly proclaiming the Gospel? There is plenty of purification going on there these days…so why wait?
Watching and waiting in and of itself has a very purifying effect not only on our lives, but on our theology as well. It keeps us grounded by not becoming so focused on building our own little kingdoms in the here and now…remember that led us to the Dark Ages. If Christ didn’t want us to understand and learn Bible prophecy, He wouldn’t have given John the Revelation to give to us. Furthermore, when Jesus revealed Himself glorified to John on Patmos, He had some choice words to say for the early church…and by extension us-he who has an ear, let him hear.
Speaking to the Church with her Vicar, her political machinations, and her “Kingdom” He says-
And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. Rev. 2:21-22
Speaking to the Christian Church who does not watch and understand prophecy-
Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. Rev. 3:3
Speaking to the Christian Church who does-
Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. Rev. 3:10-11
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.”
Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.