Does the Church Still Believe in the Rapture? – Program 1

By: Dr. Renald Showers, Dr. Paul Feinberg, Dr. Earl Radmacher, Dr. John Feinberg; ©1995
What does the Bible teach us about the rapture? What is the rapture?

The Doctrine of the Rapture

Introduction

John Ankerberg: In a recent U.S. News & World Report, sixty-one percent of Americans said they believed Jesus Christ will return to earth, and sixty percent said they thought the world will end sometime in the future. Today on the John Ankerberg Show, does the church still teach that Jesus Christ will someday suddenly return to earth and thus set in motion terrifying end-time events?

[Movie clip—Future Tense]

Narrator: According to the Bible, there will be a day when Jesus Christ comes again to gather from the earth all the people who truly believe in him. Now, there are different opinions among Christians on the exact order of the events surrounding his return. But one thing is certain: he is coming back. There are over 300 passages in the Bible that deal with the return of Jesus Christ. Many of these passages indicate that he could come at any moment.
Radio Announcer—“Steve”: At approximately 5:37 a.m., Central Standard Time, an event of catastrophic proportions occurred as millions of people have apparently disappeared from the face of the earth. I repeat, the Federal Government has declared a state of national emergency. We go now to Bob Lawson, live from our eyewitness helicopter.
“Bob”: Steve, I have never seen anything like this! It looks like a war zone from up here! We are currently approaching the downtown area….
Ankerberg: In this series you will hear from nine prominent theologians and biblical prophecy scholars. From our conference in Dallas, Texas, we’ll hear Dr. David Breese, Dr. Zola Levitt, Peter LaLonde and Dr. Randall Price. From our own studios you will hear theologians Dr. John Walvoord, Dr. Renald Showers, Dr. Paul Feinberg, Dr. Earl Radmacher, and Dr. John Feinberg. Join us and discover what the Bible teaches about the return of Jesus Christ to this earth.

Program 1 [from Dallas, Texas]

Ankerberg: Welcome! We’re here in warm and wonderful Dallas, Texas, with a wonderful audience today, and we have four men that are some of the key leaders in biblical prophecy in our country and have major ministries concerning biblical prophecy. We’re glad that you’ve joined us today. We’re going to start with a topic that is dear to the heart of all Christians across the country, and that is the doctrine of the rapture. Very few non-Christians know that Jesus Christ said that he was coming back when he was here the first time. They know about the fact that he was born in Bethlehem and the Christmas story, but they have very little recollection about the fact that Jesus said he would come again. So it’s brand new stuff. And then, Dr. David Breese, we have a lot of Christians that are looking at their Bibles and they look at 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and they’re looking for the word “rapture” and they don’t seem to find it there. Can you help them out and tell us why the Bible does teach the doctrine of the rapture and what it is.
Dr. David Breese: Well, John, first of all, I’m happy for the opportunity to be back with you on The John Ankerberg Show. And you mentioned that in the outside world people don’t know much about the rapture or the coming of the Lord, but this great conference is an illustration that there’s a mounting, marvelous interest, both within the church and out across the world, in end-time things, and particularly the question: “What about the return of Christ?”
Well, the Bible teaches that Christ is coming at the end of the age—that’s at the end of the tribulation—“in power and great glory,” and he’s coming with “ten thousands of his saints.” And that will be the great denouement of history whereby he establishes his kingdom.
But the Scripture then teaches that, preceding that glorious return of Christ, there will be a seven-year period called the tribulation. It’s about the tribulation that the Scripture says to Christians: “because you have kept the word of my patience, I will keep you from that hour of trial [temptation, tribulation] that will come upon the whole world to try them that dwell on the earth.” Therefore, we see in Scripture that the Bible says that Christ will come for his saints before the beginning of the tribulation and take all believing Christians up to be with him in heaven. Spoken of in 1 Thessalonians 4, “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, the voice of the archangel, the trump of God: the dead in Christ shall 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 so shall we ever be with the Lord” [1 Thess. 4:16-17].
Paul expands on this a little bit in 1 Corinthians 15, saying to the Corinthians, “Behold, I show you a mystery”—something you could not figure out just by Aristotelian syllogism—“I show you a mystery: we will not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye at the last trump: the trumpet shall sound, the dead shall be raised incorruptible and we shall be changed.” So we can assure every believer within the sound of this voice that there’s coming a moment when they will be caught up in their physical bodies into the presence of Jesus Christ so as to ever be with the Lord. Perhaps in short we might say that Christ is coming at the end of the tribulation with his saints, but before that he is coming for his saints. We will then be formed into that army that shall return with him to the conquest of earth.
Ankerberg: The Greek word is harpazo, which means “to snatch” or “to catch up,” just like a thief goes in and snatches something. It’s a forcible snatch. God someday is going to come and all the Christians that are alive, he’s going to snatch them, catch them up, to be with Christ. The Latin Bible says raptus from which we got rapture.
Breese: That points up the fact that it will be a sudden thing: “Behold, I come quickly,” Christ says to the church at Philadelphia. No warning. Nothing. Just like that and it happens! So we better be ready at any given moment.
Ankerberg: Right. Dr. Randall Price, we’re glad that you’re with us today and, of course, all of you gentlemen are aware that the entire church believes in the doctrine of the rapture; but the entire church does not agree as to when that time will come. I would like you to do two things: explain quickly the three different views that are in the church concerning the rapture; and then, tell us about John 14:1-2 and where that leads you in terms of one of those views.
Dr. Randall Price: Well, when you say “the whole church believes in the rapture,” we have to understand that the church is divided in different views concerning when the rapture will take place. When we talk about the tribulation period, that time of wrath which God pours out upon this earth, that view of “catching up” or “carrying away” takes place in relationship to that span of time. There are those who believe that it will take place before that time of wrath comes, and those are called pre-tribulationists, because they believe the rapture takes place “before” that tribulation. And they believe that is a removal from all of that period of tribulation, the entire seven years.
Then there are those who are considered mid-tribulationists, who believe that the rapture will be a catching away at the midpoint, three and a half years into that tribulation period. There’s some variations on these. There are those who believe that a partial rapture— those who are extremely faithful will be rewarded by being taken up or snatched in bunches at different times at the beginning of the tribulation. Then there are those who believe in a pre-wrath rapture, that three-fourths of the way through the tribulation there will be a taking up of the church.
And then, finally, there are those who are post-tribulationists, who believe that the church will go through that entire period of time but be preserved from the wrath of God, the divine wrath, only to be taken up very quickly prior to the second coming of Christ to the earth and to meet him in the air and come back to the earth with him.
Ankerberg: Now, concerning those that believe, in a sense, that at the time Christ comes to establish his millennial kingdom and rescue Israel and establish his righteousness on earth, if that were true, and we were to meet Christ in the air, make a “U” turn and come down, why is it that at that point John 14:1-2 enters into our discussion?
Price: Because in John 14:1-2, Jesus is giving a word of assurance to his disciples. He’s saying, “I’m not going to leave you alone as orphans in this world. If I go, I go to prepare a place for you and I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” And so there is a place prepared to which believers on this earth, the church, the Body of Christ, must be taken. He will come and take them to that place. There’s no sense in which they will meet him and then come to the earth first and then go to that place. The next promise that he has made for his church is that he will take them personally himself to that place of promise.
Ankerberg: Zola, we’re so glad that you’re here. I mean, we talk about these things that are really Jewish in nature and Jesus was talking to other Jews and especially that one about John 14:1-2, “I’m going to prepare a place for you; I’m going to come again and receive you unto myself.” He’s got other things that talk in terms of a Jewish wedding. Would you fill us in and tell us why you believe it applies to the rapture.
Zola Levitt: Yes. It’s a very romantic statement. Every culture had its own custom of matrimony, and in Israel in Jesus’ time, a wedding was a two-part thing. There was a going away. First, the bridegroom came to the bride and he brought a contract of marriage. That was the first date, the proposal. There was no dating under Jewish law. Oh, they thought nothing of marrying strangers. In Fiddler on the Roof it says, “The first time I saw you was on our wedding day.” One of the songs. Rebecca married a stranger. Really, the bridegroom comes and brings a contract—money, a price for the bride; that was the custom—and he pours a cup for her. If she’ll pick up that cup and drink it, as they did at the Passover table that night of John 14, then it’s “Yes.” But he doesn’t say, “Then come with me” and they go to the rabbi and get married. He says, “I go to prepare a place for you.” He leaves; he goes back to his father’s house and he builds her a little mansion, a bridal chamber, for their honeymoon. His father is the judge on when this is done. So if you asked the young man, “When is the big day?” he would say, “I don’t know; only my father knows.” There are many clues in Scripture that the Lord did all these things and on purpose. We’re in the “going away.” He’s building this mansion in heaven. You characterized it perfectly; it’s a honeymoon chamber; it’s a bridal chamber. And when his Father says the time is right, then he will come and, as you said, “like a thief.” It is sudden but it is not unexpected. The bride is engaged. She’s been going around getting her trousseau. You asked what it had to do with the pre-tribulation rapture. It has everything to do with it because very simply, if the rapture were at the end when the Lord arrives, the honeymoon would be before the wedding. It can’t be.

Ankerberg: Alright. Let’s return to our topic for today. We left off listening to Dr. Zola Levitt talk about how the Jewish wedding ceremony forms the background for Jesus’ words in John 14 where he said, “If I go away, I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” I don’t want you to lose the impact of what Jesus was speaking about, so I’ve asked Dr. Renald Showers to give us a little more information about the background of this passage. I think what he has to say is really important. Please listen.
Dr. Renald Showers: Jesus, the night before he went to the cross, gathered with his apostles in the upper room. At the end of chapter 13 of the Gospel of John where we have the record of this gathering, Jesus forewarned his disciples that he would leave them soon. That really caused them to be disturbed. In order to calm their fears, he made a great promise to them in John 14:1-3. This is what he said: “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 unto myself so that where I am there you may be also.”
Now, Jesus was referring here to a future coming of his, and we are convinced that he is talking here about his coming to rapture the church from the earth. How do we know that he is referring here to his coming to rapture the church instead of his second coming after the end of the great tribulation? Well, for one thing he indicates here that when he comes, he will receive the believers unto himself. Notice in this coming he’s not coming to come down to where they are and live where they are. In other words, he’s not the only one that’s going to be moving here. He’s going to be removing them from where they are to be where he is. And so he says here, “I will come again and receive you unto myself.”
And then notice the purpose of this coming. It’s a purpose clause: “that where I am there you may be also.” He’s saying here, “The whole purpose of my coming in this particular coming I’m referring to is so that you can be where I am, not so that I can be where you are.” So he’s not saying in this coming “come so I can live where you are on the face of the earth,” but “I’m going to come in this coming so that you can be where I am,” namely in the Father’s house. And the very fact that he ties this promise in with the concept that he’s going to be preparing dwelling places for them in the Father’s house in heaven strongly infers that, when he receives them to himself, he’s going to take them back to live with him in those dwelling places in the Father’s house in heaven. This is definitely a rapture passage.
Now, you and I who live in this twentieth century world do not catch the full impact of the promise that Jesus made here, and the reason we do not is because, in delivering this promise, Jesus inferred in analogy with the way which Jewish people conducted their weddings in Bible times.
The first major step in a Jewish wedding between a young man and young woman in Bible times was the establishment of the marriage covenant. The Jews called the establishment of such a covenant betrothal or espousal. Usually the way that covenant would be established was as follows: the groom would leave his father’s house and travel to the home of his prospective bride. By analogy Jesus over 1900 years ago left his Father’s house in heaven and traveled to the home of his prospective bride, the church, here on planet earth.
When the Jewish bridegroom would arrive at the bride’s home, he would come for the purpose of establishing a marriage covenant; and in order to establish that covenant, he had to pay a purchase price. Jewish young men had to buy their wives in Bible times. By analogy when Jesus came in his first coming to the earth he also came for the purpose of establishing a covenant, a covenant through which he would obtain his bride, the church. And the covenant he came to establish is the one that the Bible calls the New Covenant. And he did that when he died on the cross. And he too had to pay a purchase price in order to establish that covenant and through that purchase price to obtain his bride, the church. The purchase price that Jesus had to pay was the shedding of his own life blood. That’s why Paul at the end of 1 Corinthians 6 says, “What, know ye not you’re not your own; you’ve been bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body and spirit.”
After the Jewish bridegroom had established the marriage covenant at the bride’s home and thereby had obtained his bride to be his wife, he would leave her at her home and would return to his father’s house and they would remain separated for a period of time, normally for approximately one year. And during that year of separation, the Jewish bridegroom would be busily engaged in his father’s house preparing living accommodations to which he could bring his bride later on. By analogy Jesus, less than two months after he established the new covenant through the shedding of his blood on the cross of Calvary, left the home of his prospective bride, the church, here on planet earth, and on the day of his ascension he returned to his Father’s house in heaven. And he’s been away ever since. And you and I right now are living in the period of separation between the time of his departure and the time of his return. And as he promises here in John 14, while he is away from us in the Father’s house in heaven right now, he’s busily engaged preparing living accommodations or mansions to which he can bring his bride, the church, later on.
The Jewish bridegroom at the end of the year of separation would come on an unannounced night to take his bride to be with him. The bride never knew exactly what night he would come. She knew it would be some night near the end of the year of separation, but she never knew exactly when. And so, on that unannounced night, the Jewish bridegroom would call to himself at his father’s house his best man and other male escorts, and together those young men would begin a torchlight procession through the streets of the city from the groom’s father’s house over to the home of the bride. Here was the bridegroom coming to take his bride to be with him. As those young men would be weaving their way through the streets of the city, bystanders, recognizing what was happening, would pick up a shout, “Behold the bridegroom comes.” That shout would be carried from block to block to block until finally it would arrive at the bride’s home. The major purpose of that shout was to forewarn the bride to the effect that she’d better get ready in a hurry, because tonight was the night, and her groom was already on his way to take her to be with him. As soon as she would hear that shout, she sent out word to her bridesmaids to come to her home, get her dressed in her bridal garment and all prepared, because this was the night. Now, by analogy, the Bible teaches that at the end of the present period of separation from Christ in which we are now living, Jesus, too, will come from the Father’s house in heaven toward the earth, toward the home of his bride here on the earth, at an unannounced time. The Bible makes it clear that nobody living on planet earth knows exactly when the Lord Jesus will come for his bride, the church. It’s an imminent event. It could happen at any moment. In fact, it could even happen today.
And the Scriptures also teach by analogy that when Jesus will come, at that unannounced time for his bride, he, too, will come with an escort. Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 4 refers to one great archangel who apparently will be the escort for the Lord Jesus from the Father’s house in heaven. And Paul also indicates in 1 Thessalonians 4 that, just as the Jewish bridegroom’s coming was accompanied by a loud shout, so Jesus’ coming will be accompanied by a loud shout. And I surmise that the content of that shout will be the same, “Behold, the bridegroom comes.”
Now, interestingly, when the Jewish bridegroom came on that unannounced night, he and his male escorts would wait outside the bride’s home until she was ready, and then she and her bridesmaids would come out of her home and meet her groom and his male escorts in the streets of the city. By analogy, Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4, when Jesus comes for his bride, the church, he will not come the whole way down to planet earth where his bride is living. He will stop outside the earth in the air and wait there, and then his bride, the church, will come out and meet him in the streets of the city.
After the Jewish bride would come out of her home with her bridesmaids and meet her bridegroom and his male escorts, now the enlarged wedding party would have a return torchlight procession back to the groom’s father’s house. By analogy, after Jesus has caught up his bride, the church, from the earth to meet him in the air, we are convinced, in light of this passage in John 14, that he will return with his bride from the air above the earth back to his Father’s house in heaven to begin living in the living accommodations he’s prepared there.
After the Jewish bride and groom arrived at the groom’s father’s house, they went into hiding privately into a room that the Jewish people called the chuppah—in English that means the bridal chamber—and there, in the privacy of that room, they would enter into physical union with each other for the first time and thereby consummate their marriage. Now, intriguingly, they would stay hidden in that bridal chamber for seven days. This is known therefore in the Jewish encyclopedia as the seven days of the bridal chamber. And then, at the end of the seventh day, the groom would come out of hiding from the bridal chamber and he would bring his bride out of hiding with him out in the open with her veil removed so that everyone could see who his bride truly was.
Now, by analogy with this aspect of the Jewish marriage customs, after Jesus and his bride, the church, will arrive by rapture at his Father’s house in heaven, he and his bride will also go into hiding for a period of seven, but in this instance for seven years. For, while the seven year tribulation period will be transpiring down here on planet earth, Jesus and his bride, the church, will be hidden away from the view of everyone who is still living down here. They will be hidden away in the Father’s house in heaven.
But finally at the end of the seventh year of the tribulation period, Christ will come out of hiding from the Father’s house in heaven in his glorious second coming, this time the whole way down to planet earth to take over the rule of the earth on behalf of God. And when he will come out of hiding at that time, he will bring his bride out of hiding with him from the Father’s house in heaven, now out in the open on full public display so that everyone who’s still living here on planet earth can see who his bride, the church, truly is.
This analogy, which Jesus inferred, indicates a pre-tribulation rapture of the Church before the seven-year tribulation period begins.

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