The Rapture of the Elect (Matthew Sermon 127 of 151)
June 20, 2010 | Andy Davis
Glory of God, Second Coming of Christ, Angels, Return of Christ
Isn't it a marvelous, marvelous thing how it says in the scripture: Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. That's a beautiful thing, isn't it? All my life, I have wanted to fly. That's true. I have wanted to just be able to jump off the surface of the earth and go up to the clouds. It's a desire that I have, and I don't think I'm the only one that has this desire. It says in the book of Ecclesiastes - I bet you're wondering what's coming next - It says in the book of Ecclesiastes that God has put eternity in the hearts of men. But I think just from a common experience, I think he's also put flight in the hearts of men, too. We would love to be able to fly like the birds.
I remember when I was in Acadia National Park looking at birds of prey just soaring on thermals and just riding higher and higher, and I thought, I would love to be one of them. Sitting on a cliff overlooking Echo Lake there in Maine, at that beautiful park. And I saw the same thing in the Grand Canyon.
When I was a teenager, I had a dream, the most vivid dream of my life, literal dream, middle of the night. And I dreamt that I was standing on the parapet of an ancient castle, Bavarian kind of castle in the Alps. I just was standing on the wall, and then moved by some impulse, I just threw myself from the wall. And instead of falling, one of those falling dreams, I started to soar out over this beautiful Alpine lake.
It was an unbelievable thrill. And I thought, “Wow, this is incredible.” I saw these sailboats sailing below me. I saw birds next to me and I was doing better than they were. I was having the time of my life. Until, suddenly, I woke up. And with bitter disappointment, I realized that had just been a dream, but I still remember the details of the dream. It was in the Alps somewhere, I was on a castle and I was flying over a lake. I remember it distinctly. Thinking, “Oh God, I would love to be able to do that. I would love to be able to just soar through the air.”
Now, people, I think from ancient times past have had this desire. Ancient Greek mythology have Daedalus and Icarus who make wings out of wax and feathers, they didn't choose good engineering materials, dear friends. And they went up too high and they got too close to the sun god, and his heat melted the wax and they fell to their death.
But, I didn't realize this, in around the year 1,000 AD or 1,010, somewhere in there, a Benedictine monk in England named Eilmer of Malmesbury made a glider and flew 250 feet in it, till he crashed. He didn't die. But that meant this has been a desire that human beings have had for a long time. Leonardo da Vinci invented all kinds of stuff, on paper only, never built it, flying machines, including one he called an aerial screw. It looked like a kind of propeller that would just kind of screw you up into the air. I don't think that was gonna work, but he had some helicopters and some other things that actually look pretty much like what we have today.
Now, we all live in North Carolina, which has seized from the state of Ohio the claim “First in Flight.” I'm not a native of North Carolina. If any of you who are, wanna come and quibble with me, you do what you want. I see the license plates. I know what it says. Orville and Wilbur, two Ohio boys, brought their research from Dayton, Ohio, here to some sandy place where the winds were right, and they flew here. And the 20th century has seen a, has seen a tremendous development of flight, but you know something? That's not what I'm talking about.
I have taken 11 different flights in the last three weeks, up and down, take-off and landing 11 times. I'm sick of it. I'm sick of taking my shoes off in public places, having people rummage through my private things. I'm grateful for the TSA agents that keep us all safe. I would like them to know I am not a terrorist, and I'm not going to hijack any airplane, but they don't know me, so I don't mind taking off my stuff and surrendering my beverages and my shaving cream that's a little bit too big and didn't fit in the bag. But the fact of the matter is, that's not the kind of flying I'm talking about. I would just like to just slip from the earth and fly through the clouds. That's what I would like. And you know, the amazing thing is, the Lord has in some mysterious way, promised that all of us in Christ are gonna get at least one such flight.
Now, the closest thing I've seen recently, to any of this, is a crazy YouTube video of some base jumpers in a fjord in Norway. I don't know if you've seen these guys. They stand on a cliff and then they just jump, and they've got these tiny little parachutes behind them. They've got these web suits that look like flying squirrels. And they fly down, 120 miles an hour, near the cliffs, and they land safely, so beautifully. Isn't that wonderful? On their feet. Closest thing to flying you'll ever see. That's not flying, that's falling, dear friends. And they don't tell you that many of these base jumpers die for their sport.
Now, I don't wanna die. I just wanna fly. When the space shuttle Challenger blew up, Ronald Reagan, president at the time, quoted this poem, “How they slipped the surly bonds of earth and touched the face of God.” Yes, but they died. I wanna slip the surly bonds of earth and touch the face of Christ and not die. I wanna meet the Lord in the air. And so do you, don't you? And that's what we're talking about today.
We're talking about the doctrine of the rapture. The doctrine of the rapture is that Jesus Christ will return and he will dispatch angels and he will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. And we will meet the Lord in the air. And so we're looking at Matthew 24:31. I also want you to take time, while I'm speaking now, to put your finger or some bookmark in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, which teaches the same thing. And by looking at these two passages of scripture, I think we're going to get a good grounding in this doctrine of the rapture of the church. And as I do, I'm going to present a positive doctrinal assertion of what the Bible does, in fact, teach about the rapture, what it is, what it means, what's happening with it. But I also have to do some negative work too, and I have to do my best to defend you, I think, from doctrinal error. And I consider the so-called secret rapture, which is very popular in most evangelical circles to be an error. It's not a major error. It's not a killing, a soul-killing error, but it's an error nonetheless.
I was speaking to Tom Geers before worship today, and I likened it to, remember those cartoons when you were growing up, and some character in the cartoon in the midst of some kind of frenzy, runs off a cliff. And he's doing just fine, he's floating in mid-air until suddenly, he stops and looks around. And he looks down in particular and realizes that there's nothing under his feet, and then he looks at us, and then he drops. Right. Well, I want you to have solid doctrine under your feet at all times. I want you to be able to trace everything you believe about the Christian faith to some passage of scripture rightly exegeted. I want us to rightly divide the word of truth. And so, I think it's important for us to have a right understanding of the rapture, and so I have to preach against a very popular view, and that is the so-called secret rapture.
Popular Views of the “Secret Rapture”
What do we mean by the secret rapture? First of all, in one sense, the Rapture isn't secret at all. Some of those that defend it hate the term “secret rapture” and say, “We're doing everything we can to make the rapture very public and open and honest,” but that's not what I'm talking about. It's secret to those that are left behind. That's the point. And they don't know what happened after it's over. And so, to some degree, the second coming of Christ, the first version of the second coming of Christ in that doctrinal scheme is a secret to those that are left behind. They don't know what happened, and they kinda have to figure out what happened. To them, it's a secret. Jesus not only comes as a thief in the night, but he leaves as a thief in the night with the church, steals her away, saves all of the redeemed, brings them out just before the seven-year tribulation. It's called the pre-trib rapture, and what I call the secret rapture, because it's a secret to those that are left behind. They don't understand it. They don't know what's happened, and I find this un-Biblical.
I think that when Jesus returns and catches the church up in the clouds, everybody's gonna know it's the second coming of Christ. That's what I believe. Now, I think it's possible to disagree. I just wanna be sure that your methodology is right. I wanna be sure that you have, in fact, certain passages of scripture under your feet, and that you've understood them the best way possible.
Left Behind: A Worldwide Phenomenon
Now, the secret rapture scheme has been presented and popularized in a lot of different ways, most recently, of course, the Left Behind series. Without the secret rapture, you don't have the Left Behind, because it's a real short time. Those that are left behind go to judgment by Jesus as he returns, so there's not enough time for... What is it? 15 books that are written after they're all left behind.
I do believe there are gonna be many people left behind, but they're gonna be left behind not for long, because Jesus is coming back in judgment, and destruction is gonna come on them suddenly as labor pains on a pregnant woman. That's what it says. Judgment is coming. I do believe that there will be many left behind. Matthew 24 teaches that. We'll get to that later, but the fact of the matter is, in this scheme, there's a long delay in time for a whole development, a whole history, the seven-year tribulation.
The book begins with a pilot, Rayford Steele, who's a 747 pilot, flying out, I guess, over the Atlantic, the middle of the night. Suddenly, he sees a woman in the story, Hattie Durham, and she's just shaking inconsolable, doesn't know what to do. People are missing from the plane, hard to do on a plane over the Atlantic, but there's lots of people missing, dozens of them, and their piles of clothing kind of fully arranged in the original position, and they're just there, and people have gone. And it turns out to be not just on that plane, but all over the world. This is the rapture. Christ has come back in that story and taken the church, and off they go.
By the way, I want you to notice that in Matthew 24:31, it says he comes and gets the elect. It doesn't say he comes and gets all the believers. I believe elect equals believers at that point. All of the elect have come to faith by then. I believe that, okay. But at this point, it's all that all of those that are ready, those that have come to faith, and he comes and the Lord comes and gets them.
And so, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, they claim that while their series is fiction, they say it's based on absolute biblical facts, all of theology and good exegesis. That's the thing I'm questioning today. I don't think so. They have added some vivid details, which, I would like to know where the solid theology is for like the necklace around the lady's neck that's left, that the indentation in the pillow, that kind of thing. There are all kinds of vivid details that really capture the imagination, but where are the verses? How do we know the necklaces are gonna be left behind? And the clothing, too.
These are just surmisings. For me, I just want eschatology to be based on scripture, and to not speculate, but instead just see what the scripture says. And so, we're gonna look at Matthew 24:31, and 40 and 41. We're gonna look at 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17. Secret rapture is the definition that Christ returns not once, but twice. First time as a thief in the night to catch as many true believers that are ready at that point in the middle of life, leaving unbelievers to wonder where they went.
And I'm gonna say in this message that, that was the doctrinal innovation that came in in the 19th century. It was unheard of before then, for the most part, and instead, the doctrine of the Rapture is taught and we're gonna see that today.
The Rapture Described
Let's look at what it says. Look at verses 29-31 in Matthew 24. “Immediately after the distress of those days, the sun will be darkened. The moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time, the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky and all the nations of the Earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”
Well, first, let's deal with this word “rapture.” It's in the sermon title. I tell you, it's not found anywhere in the English Bible. It doesn't mean that it's not a biblical truth, that, that word isn't found in the Bible. We know that the word “trinity” is not found in the Bible, but we think it's a helpful term to help us understand the doctrine of the trinity, etcetera. The word “rapture” comes, I think, from the passage in 1 Thessalonians 4, like I told you to look there, just keep your finger in these two passages, we're going back and forth.
But if you look at 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, it says, “The Lord himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” Now, look at verse 17. “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up”- Caught up - “together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so, we will be with the Lord forever.”
That's the Rapture, caught up. The word “rapture” is really just an English version of a Latin word. The Latin word from which we get the word “raptor” also, kind of birds that come like eagles or vultures, that snatch up their prey or grab them up, or a falcon, something like that. And so, the idea in the Greek is of being caught up or snatched up in some way.
The Greek word here is passive, so something happens to you. It's nothing you do. You don't go get yourself raptured. You have to be raptured, something has to happen to you. 1 Thessalonians 4 doesn't say how, but that those who are left will be caught up together with them. And so, there's something sudden, I think, something passive that happens.
Matthew 24:31 Gives The Agents of the Rapture: Angels
Back in Matthew 24:31, go back, we're going back and forth. But if you look at verse 31, it says how it's going to happen. Gives you the agents of the rapture, and they are angels. Now, the Bible says repeatedly in the second coming of Christ, there will be angels. Not a few angels, lots of angels, myriad angels, mighty angels, a mighty warrior host returning with Jesus. Matthew 16:27 says, “The Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.”
And then in the next chapter, in Matthew 25:31, next from where we're at, it says, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory, and all the nations will be gathered before him and he will separate the people one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep and the goats.” Mark 8:38 says this, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his Father's glory with his angels.”
I mean, it's again and again, it's not one or two, it's many. Even Enoch, seventh from Adam, foresaw this angelic host returning with Jesus. Jude 14 says, “Enoch, the seventh from Adam prophesied about these men,” false teachers, “Behold, the Lord is coming,” listen, “with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones.” I mean, that's the seventh man from Adam, and God showed him the second coming of Christ. The Lord planned this before the foundation of the world, how it was gonna be, and he was gonna come with angels.
Daniel 7 implies that there are 100 million angels and the angelic host is going to come. And so, Revelation 19 makes it plain that Christ is returning at the head of an immense army of angels. Revelation 19:11 says, “I saw heaven standing open, and there before me was a white horse whose rider is called faithful and true.” And verse 14, “the armies of heaven were following him riding on white horses dressed in fine linen, white and clean."
The Dispatch of Christ: Rescue My People
And so, Jesus returns verse 30, in verse 31, he sends out his angels, he dispatches them. Verse 31, “He will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds from one end of the heavens to the other.” Christ is coming for the sake of his elect to rescue them in every way from this sin-cursed planet.
Now, the word “elect” means chosen ones. It's a biblical doctrine that God knows his elect. He knows his chosen ones, he knew them by name before the foundation of the world, chosen in Christ, before the creation of the world. The word elect is mentioned three times in this chapter, Matthew 24:22. “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.” Matthew 24:22. And then again in 24:24. It says, “False Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect - if that were possible. See, I've told you ahead of time.”
And now here in this verse, verse 31. Now, who are the elect? Well, they are the ones that God chose in Christ to be Christians. Ephesians 1:4 and 5 says, “He chose us in him,” that is, in Christ, “before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” Chosen in him. These are love gifts from the Father to the Son, the elector, and not one of them can be lost. Isn't that a beautiful thing? Rest in that. Rest in God's sovereign election. He knows you by name, he has called you my name, you are his sheep, and he will not lose you.
And so it says in John 6:37-39, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me, I will never drive away. For I've come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.” Notice how Jesus says in John 6, “I have come down from heaven.” He's talking about his first coming, his first advent coming down from heaven to go to the cross and the empty tomb, all of that. But he's gonna come down from him, and the second time also for the elect, that he shall lose none of them but raise them up at the last day. Isn't that a beautiful thing?
And so, he sends out his angels and he's going to come and get you. Nobody's gonna get missed, there's no one that should be coming that will be left behind, no one falls through the cracks, he is perfect in what he's doing, the angels know you, and they're going to come and get you, and they're going to grab you, so be ready friends, be ready. I remember we were at a birthday party at the fire station for one of my sons, and the fireman came in in all of his scary garb, he had this rubber mask on and this breathing thing. Like that. And he's saying, “Now, don't be afraid, don't be afraid when I come in and get you, and rescue you because I'm here to help you. Okay?” Don't be afraid dear friends, when the angels break into your daily life, when the angel comes and gets you, he's here to help you, he's here to rescue you from this sin-cursed world. And so, not one of the elect is going to be missing.
The Angelic Mission: “Elect from Every Nation”
And notice the extent of it. They're going to go all over the world. All over the world. The angels are gonna break into the middle of life, “As it was in the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man, because in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and given in marriage.” We'll talk about that next. Not today. But the angel's gonna be breaking in and they're gonna go all over the world, “He will send his angels and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”
Now, remember earlier in Matthew 24 and verse 14, it says, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world, as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” The gospel, dear friends, is going to be effective all over the world, there are going to be elect from every nation, and the angels have to go to every nation on earth and get them. Oh, what a beautiful and glorious gathering that will be, as the gospel had its way, and the gospel was triumphant and victorious, and missionaries spent their lives to go get those elect. Paul says, “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” The gospel was effective dear friends, and the angels have to go, and they're happy to go all over the world to get them.
The geographic scope, and notice that standing next to one of these elect people will do you no good if you're not one of them. Proximity to a believer will not help you at that point if you're not a believer. And so look again in verse 40-41, it says, “Two men will be in the field. One will be taken, the other left.” Verse 41, “Two women will be grinding with a hand mill, one will be taken and the other left.”
Friends, it will be too late at that point to repent and believe, the door will have closed, there's no chance at that point for faith. The sign of the Son of Man is already shining in the sky, there's no chance for faith, the day is over. Those that are left behind there, they don't get a second chance during the tribulation, they're done, they're finished, it's over. Dear friends, don't be left behind then. He's coming to get the elect.
Now, you may say, how can I know whether I'm elect? It's very simple. This morning, you have already heard and you will hear again the gospel of Jesus Christ, you'll hear how Jesus came to earth and how he shed his blood on the cross for sinners like you and me, and how you are a sinner, and you violated the laws of God, and you're not ready to stand before God in judgment. The wrath will come on you, it's eternal wrath, not temporary, and you're in great danger if you're not in Christ, and all you need to do is flee to Christ, is trust in him. Everyone who calls in the name of the Lord will be saved.
The Bible teaches us the only ones that respond to that are the elect. You wanna know if you're elect, respond to that. Come to faith in Christ. You're to make your calling and election sure, you believed years ago? Okay, let your heart resonate with what I'm saying now and say, “That's my gospel, that's the message that saves me a sinner.” That's how you know you're elect, by response to the gospel of Jesus Christ, trust in him, call on the name of the Lord. I freely admit that the rapture is not one of the central doctrines of the Bible, I freely admit. But this one is, the gospel of Jesus Christ is, and if you will repent and believe in him, you will be saved. And part of that is he's gonna send an angel to come get you. So believe in him.
Meeting the Lord in the Air
All over the world, the gospel is going to spread, and he's gonna send out angels, and what are they going to do? They're gonna gather the elect and they're going to meet the Lord in the air. The Lord is returning to the earth, he has a purpose. He's coming from heaven to earth to rescue his church and to destroy the antichrist and Satan and all of his works. And establish a righteous kingdom that will be eternal, and so the rapture enables us to meet him in the air. He comes back with the clouds, surrounded by the awesome turbulence of the clouds, they're always mentioned. We will defy gravity in the grip of an angel and fly up to meet the Lord.
The Timing of the Rapture
At the Second Coming of Christ
Now, when will that happen? Now, that's an interesting question, isn't it? And here I want to just cling to the passage that was read, that Jack Evans read so beautifully for us. I think it gives us a very clear timetable. So look down in Matthew 24:29, “Immediately after the distress of those days.” Now, the word “distress” is translated in another version, “tribulation.” Okay, let's just stick that one in there because I think it's helpful. “Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” Talked about that last time. Verse 30, “At that time, the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky and all the nations of the Earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming with the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.” That is the second coming. Preached about that last time and the time before that.
Tribulation. Second coming. What's verse 31? What would you call verse 31? “And he will send out his angels, and they will gather the elect from the four winds from one end of the heavens to the other.” That is the rapture friends. Tribulation, second coming, rapture. And Second Coming, rapture, same time. That's it. I think that's a good order, don't you? Friends, let's just stick to the scripture, let's just go with the order that you find in the Bible, tribulation, second coming, and the rapture. I think that's it.
But if you need some more help, go over to 1 Thessalonians 4, 1 Thessalonians 4 gives us the same teaching. 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, “According to the Lord's own word, we tell you, we who are still alive, who are left 'til the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up” - Rapture - “With them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” This is the second coming of Christ.
The word “coming” at the coming of the Lord is “parousia” in 1 Thessalonians, the Greek term for the second coming. Verse 16, in 1 Thessalonians 4 speaks plainly of the second coming, “The Lord himself will come down from heaven.” That sounds like the second coming to me. What do you think? “The Lord himself will come down from heaven.” If I were to say “What doctrine does that describe?” You would say, “Second coming.”
At the Same Time as a Loud Command... the Voice of the Archangel...the Trumpet Call of God
“The Lord himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God.” What is the loud command? I think he's commanding the archangels to go. The archangels then are commanding other lesser angels to go and, like an army, that's the way it is, Jesus is the commander of a great army and everything is orderly, and there's discipline and structure, just like the centurion saw in Matthew chapter 8. There's just order and he gives an order, and then it just goes down and the voice of the archangel, and then they come and gather us. “Bring forth my elect,” says Jesus, and they go.
At the Same Time as the Resurrection of the Dead in Christ
And what is this trumpet call of God? Well, it's also mentioned in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, the great resurrection chapter, which according to 1 Thessalonians 4, that's when this is happening, at the second coming, at the rapture is the resurrection. I don't deny that there's difficulties when we read Revelation 20, it's hard to put all this together. You know what it seems with eschatology? It's like a puzzle and you put it in all these pieces and they fit so neatly except this one piece, and whatever scheme you have, there's always at least one piece that just doesn't seem to fit. What I do with that is, I don't take out scissors and trim off that offending tab, and fill in the other part that just doesn't seem to... I just say, look, I don't know how to put all this together. I'll do the best I can. In particular, millennium, how that fits together, difficult for me to say.
But 1 Thessalonians 4, I don't think it's that difficult when it comes to the resurrection. The dead in Christ rise. We also meet them. 1 Corinthians 15 then says, “in a flash, in a twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, we will be changed.” And there's your resurrection body, we have resurrection bodies that we're still alive, the dead in Christ get theirs as well, and so we will be with the Lord for how long? Forever, forever. And so there it is.
The Secret Rapture Rejected
The Secret Rapture Messes with the “Coming of the Lord”
So I think we need to reject the concept of the secret rapture, secret rapture, basically says it's going to be a secret. It's going to be here in the inner rooms, or there out in the desert, and Jesus said, don't do that. As lightning that comes from the east is visible in the west, everybody will know what's going on. Everybody.
The Secret Rapture Is a New Teaching
Secret rapture as I said, is a new teaching, I will not bore you with details, but it came in in the early 1800s was popularized by a Scottish pastor named Irving, Edward Irving, and he got it from a 15-year-old girl that had a vision of basically two second comings. J.N. Darby, who really started dispensationalism, I think, influenced C.I. Scofield. Scofield put it in a reference Bible that was printed a million strong up to 1930, and it just spread everywhere, the idea of the two-second comings and the secret rapture popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible. Then 1970, Hal Lindsey put it in The Late Great Planet Earth. 1972, there was a movie made called A Thief in the Night that popularized it, and now we have the Left Behind series, and so it's with us. And all I want you to do is just be noble Berean, that takes it and says, “Is it so? Is it so?”
The Secret Rapture Is a New Teaching
I think that the secret rapture is driven by the desire to escape the tribulation. Look, who would want to go through the tribulation? Read the book of Revelation, find out just how horrible it is, but it all comes down to one verse, I think in particular, in Revelation 3:10, the Lord says, “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth.” So they take that one verse, which is to one of the seven churches, and they extend it out to all true believers, and all true believers will miss the final seven-year tribulation period.
First of all, the translation itself is questionable, could be, “I will keep you in the hour of trial that's gonna come on the whole earth.” And isn't that God's usual way? Not so much to whisk us out, but to preserve us, protect us so that we make it through, and doesn't that actually fit Matthew 24 a little bit better? Matthew 24:22 says, “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive but for the sake of” - who? “the elect, those days will be shortened.” Why? Because they're going through it, because they're suffering through it.
Frankly, even the Left Behind people, they tell you some of God's elect you do go through it, they don't talk much about election, I notice. But some of God's people, they call them tribulation saints. They go through the tribulation, they go through it. They weren't ready when Jesus came. And so therefore, in my opinion, I think they're being spanked, punished by God, so they have to go through the tribulation.
None of this makes much sense to me, and whether it makes sense or not, I don't find it in the Bible. To put the whole thing down on one verse, I think is inappropriate. Instead, isn't it God's usual way to preserve and protect his church in the midst of great suffering and trial? And that's what I think he does.
Frankly, in Revelation 16:12-15, it seems that the elect actually are going through the tribulation. It says, “The sixth angel poured out his bowl in the great river, Euphrates and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings of the East. Behold, I come like a thief!” Listen to this, “Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed,” Notice the thief statement, he says, “I'm coming, therefore, blessed are those who are ready and are…” And that's right in the middle of all the bowls and the seals of Revelation.
So I think actually, biblically, it's more likely that God's people will have to endure a time of great suffering before the end. But Jesus comes back to rescue us from it. Amen. Isn't that beautiful? He's coming back to get his bride and get her out of trouble, because those days had been cut short.
Someone Will Do a U-Turn... Christ or Us
Frankly friends, when it comes to the second coming, someone is going to do a U-turn, it's either gonna be us or Jesus. Jesus comes from heaven down to the earth, or toward the earth, right? The rapture means we're gonna meet the Lord where? In the clouds, but neither Jesus nor us is staying in the clouds, that's not our final home. Somebody is doing a U-turn. Do you not to see it? Either Jesus gets the church and goes back up to heaven for seven more years, or we meet the Lord and we do a U-turn and escort him back to the Earth.
And frankly, the Greek word for “meet” in 1 Thessalonians is that precise term of a delegation sent out from a city to meet a coming king or dignitary, and escort him back into the city. And I think that's precisely what is happening at the rapture, we go up, we meet the Lord, and we come down to do some damage, friends. Although frankly, if you read Revelation 19, we don't need to do much damage, all the damage is done by Jesus, 'cause you got the sword coming out of his mouth, and he can slay anyone he wants any time, because he is the Sovereign God. And when he says to the antichrist, “Be dead.” That's it, because he slays them with the breath of his mouth. But we're gonna be there as witnesses, Amen. And we're gonna be with the hosts of heaven, and we're gonna meet the Lord in the air and we'll be with him forever.
But What about the “Thief in the Night” Passages?
Now, what about the thief in the night passages? Not yet. Later we'll come to them. But basically, if I can say simply, it's this. It comes like a thief in the night to those who don't read the Bible and are not ready. Jesus doesn't want us to be like that and so he's told us plainly what's gonna happen, and he's saying that they will not surprise you like a thief in the night, you will be ready. And part of the rest of Matthew 24 is to get you ready, so that you're ready for the second coming of Christ and live every moment for the second coming of Christ.
The Significance of the Rapture
It Demonstrates Christ’s Power
So what is the significance of the rapture? Well, it demonstrates Christ's power, we see his power in the clouds of the sky with great glory, specifically his power over the antichrist and overall force of evil, we will see that. His power also to raise the dead, because the dead in Christ will be raised at that point and Jesus's power over death will be open and obvious. Amen. At the rapture, we will see his power, we will be in resurrection bodies.
It Demonstrates Christ’s Love for His Church
It demonstrates also Christ's love for the church. He said on the road to Damascus, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He takes it personally when his elect are beat up on earth and he's coming back to rescue them. Conversely, he takes it very personally when his elect are well-treated on earth in his name. And he rewards people, sheep and the goats, you'll see it, but he rewards people based on how his people are treated. And so He is coming back because he loves the church.
It is a Reward for Faithful and Courageous Service
It's also, the rapture is, a reward for faithful and courageous service. Revelation 7:13-17, “One of the elders asked ‘These in white robes - who are they and where do they come from?’ I answered, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said, ‘Well, these are they that have come out of the great tribulation. They've washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb, and therefore, they are before the throne of God, and they serve him day and night in his temple, and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them, and never again will they hunger, and never again will they thirst, and the sun will not beat on them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their Shepherd, and he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” And it says at the end of Revelation 22:12, “Behold, I am coming soon, and my reward is with me.” Rapture is part of his reward. Catch you up in the clouds to meet the Lord,
It Enables Us to Accompany Christ to the Earth
And the rapture enables us to be with the Lord as he comes down. I wanna be with him, don't you? Don't you wanna see him, don't you wanna see him in his hour of glory, in his hour of triumph? To be there as an eyewitness? You didn't get to be there as an eyewitness with the first generation, those were the apostles, that wasn't us, but we get to be eyewitnesses of his second coming glory. We get to glorify him.
It Signifies the End of the Old Order of Things
It signals also the end of the old order of things. The resurrection is the end. The old order of things will have passed away.
It Begins Our Face to Face Fellowship with Christ and Our Perfect Unity with Each Other
It begins also our face-to-face fellowship with Christ that will last forever, and our perfect unity with each other. We're not going to precede those that have fallen asleep, we're gonna be together, the dead in Christ, the living in Christ together, we'll be together from every tribe, and language, and people and nation, and we will be one.
It Fulfills the Lifelong Yearning of Many to Fly
And finally, it fulfills my lifetime yearning to fly, so at least I'm happy about that. If any of you else would just be honest and say, “I actually always wish I could fly too.” Then don't feel you're yearning to go. If you couldn't care less, it doesn't matter, you're going if you're a Christian, so he's going to come and get you and you will fly as well, at least just one time.
Come to Christ Now!
So what application can we take from this? Well, first, come to Christ now, this could be your last chance to hear the gospel. I'm not trying to be melodramatic, but you don't know when you're going to die, you don't know how many more minutes you have on earth, come to Christ now, look to the blood of Christ, trust in him, don't put it off, not because the rapture might happen tonight, but because your death might happen tonight. Be ready at every moment.
Delight in the Power of Christ to Protect His Church and Relish the Togetherness of the Church
And delight in the power of Christ in protecting his church. Relish the togetherness of the unity of the church, so we're gonna be together forever. Yearn for that.
Think Carefully About the Secret Rapture...and Reject It
Think carefully about the secret rapture. If I haven't persuaded you, then go back and look at the passages on rapture and see if you can place it. See if you can find a place where Jesus comes secretly, gets the church, and disappears for seven years. And if you can support it and believe it, show me the passage, and I'd like to learn as well.
Be Strengthened by the Coming Triumph of Christ
And one final thing from a hymn we sang earlier for all the saints, it's powerful while we're seeing it just hit me how important this is, you know why we need to teach on the second coming of Christ? You know why this is important? Well, listen to this verse, and for all the saints, “And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song, and hearts are brave again and arms are strong. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.” If you're feeling weak in your battle with sin today, hear the distant victory song today and say, someday you're going to triumph over all sin. So be strong today against temptation. And if you're weary of evangelizing and the whole missionary endeavor, let the distant victory song steal in your ear and get brave again in sharing the gospel. Let your arms be strong one more time. Close with me in prayer.