Does the Church Still Believe in the Rapture? – Program 2

By: Dr. Renald Showers, Dr. Paul Feinberg, Dr. Earl Radmacher, Dr. John Feinberg; ©1995
Jesus has said that the time of tribulation will be the worst the word has even seen. What is going to happen to the earth during the tribulation time?

What is the Tribulation Period?


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 2 [from Dallas, Texas]

Ankerberg: Welcome! We’re here in warm and wonderful Dallas, Texas, and we have four of the premier teachers on biblical prophecy today with us, and we are talking about the exciting events of Christ’s second coming; we’re talking about the rapture of the Church. And we’re going to define those terms in a moment. Maybe you’re not familiar with those terms, but we’re going to talk about them. And then, you need to realize that the Bible says that planet earth is headed toward some very serious events; that which Jesus said is a tribulation time, a time of trouble. In fact, Jesus Christ said that the time of tribulation will be the worst that the world has ever seen, has ever experienced. Nothing will even come close to it. What did Jesus say would happen? Well, we’re going to find out today.
But before we do, Dr. Breese, I need a quick review of what is the rapture and then, will Christians who are alive now, does the Bible say they’re going to have to experience some of that tribulation time period or will we be raptured before it takes place? So, Dr. Breese, start us off. What is the rapture?
Breese: The rapture is the coming of Christ for his saints, when he comes to catch us up to be in his presence. After that comes the tribulation and then comes the glorious return of Christ when he comes as King of kings and Lord of lords. So the rapture is that event whereby all believers will be taken from this world into the presence of God, from the whole earth, by the way. There will not be a single Christian left in the world after the rapture. Believers will be taken home to be with him.
Ankerberg: Peter, personally, why were you led to the view? You come from Canada, okay? This is not a popular view up there. The fact is, what made you come to the conclusion that Jesus was going to come and rescue Christians before the terrible tribulation time period?
Peter LaLonde: I think the entire idea that we have discussed and been in agreement here is imminence. The Lord could come at any moment. There’s nothing that has to precede it. At any moment; we don’t have to wait for some invasion from the north or some other thing that’s going to tick off the time when it is. We have to be ready and living and expectant at all times.
And, you know, some people say, “Well, why study prophecy? Why study all of this stuff?” The post-tribers say, “Why get on all this rapture stuff? If the Lord comes, he comes; if he doesn’t, he doesn’t. We’ll both go anyway. We’re both believers.” And they’re right; I’m just concerned they’ll have a heart attack on the way up, you know.
But the fact of the matter is, when the disciples came to Jesus and said, “What will be the sign of thy coming and the end of this age?” he gave them great detail. He didn’t say, “Don’t worry about it—if I come I come.” It was great detail. We’re to be expectant at all times.
And what we see now in the world today are signs of the second coming of Christ, which is seven years after the rapture. And if those signs are beginning to come to pass, how much closer the rapture must be! So that gives us a sense of urgency. But it’s always been imminent since the time of Christ, and we’re to just be excited and expectant because, in a moment—if we as Christians could come to grips with this—in a moment we’ll be in the presence of our Lord forever. How differently it would transform our lives. And I think that’s what the teaching is there for.

Ankerberg: Now, did you hear what Peter just said? When the rapture occurs, you and I will be instantly brought into the presence of the Lord forever. Now, what I want you to see is where the Bible clearly teaches this. And to present the evidence, I’d like to begin with one of the premier prophecy scholars in America, Dr. John Walvoord. He’s been president of Dallas Theological Seminary and has specialized in the teaching of biblical eschatology for more than fifty years. His books are some of the standard texts seminary students of all persuasions have had to read and grapple with. I’d like you to listen as he presents the biblical evidence for the rapture.
Dr. John Walvoord: Now, the doctrine of the rapture—Christ coming for his own—is a very particular doctrine. As we’re going to see in our study of the Scriptures, it predicts that Christ is going to come bodily from heaven; he’s going to cause Christians who have died to be resurrected; living Christians to be instantly changed to rise from the earth and meet the Lord in the air and then go to heaven. Now, Christ introduced this for the very first time in John 14, and the disciples were struggling with the idea he’s going to leave. And he said, “If I go,” verse 3 of John 14, “and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am, there ye may be also.” Now, this fell on absolutely deaf ears for the disciples, because they were confused about the first and second coming. Everybody was confused in the Old Testament and the Gospel. They put the first and second coming of Christ together as if it is one event, and they thought he was going to fulfill the promises relating to his second coming. And, of course, he wasn’t. And now he introduced this additional element. He’s going to come and take them to heaven. This wasn’t their foreview at all. They were looking for a kingdom on earth.
Ankerberg: Next, I’d like you to listen to Dr. Renald Showers. He’s on the faculty of the Institute of Biblical Studies and has authored many books including the excellent book on the rapture entitled Maranatha, Our Lord Come! He comments now on the importance of Jesus’ word in John 14.
Showers: Jesus has gathered with his disciples in the Upper Room. It’s the night before he goes to the cross. And he had just been warning them at the end of chapter 13 that he’s going to leave them soon, and they were really troubled over that. And he realized that and so he said to them, “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.” And here Jesus was giving a promise to his believers that even though he was going to leave them on the day of his ascension, return to the Father’s house in heaven, that he wasn’t going to leave them forever; that the day would come when he would leave the Father’s house in heaven, he would come down toward the earth where they are, that he would come for the purpose of removing them from the earth and taking them back to his Father’s house to live in the mansions or dwelling places which he would be preparing for them while he is away. And it’s very significant, John, to see that he’s declaring what the purpose of it is: “so that where I am, there you may be also.” Very personal note here that, in that coming, he would come to take his bride, the church, so that they could be together with him.
Ankerberg: Now, the second key rapture text is 1 Corinthians 15:51-52. Recently at a conference, here’s how I presented what Paul is teaching in this verse.
Paul says here, “Behold, I show you a mystery.” Like a mystery? If you want, underline the word mystery and put the number 1 above that word: “I show you a mystery.” “We shall not all sleep.” What does it mean to sleep? We’ll see that in a moment. But put number 2, “we shall not all sleep.” “But we shall all be changed.” Put number 3 above the line: “we shall all be changed.” Put number 4 above the phrase, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.”
Four little points in this verse. What do they mean? “Behold, I show you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed; in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” Four things.
Paul says, “I’m going to show you a mystery.” What is “mystery”? It’s the Greek word mysterion, which means it’s a new truth; it’s a new revelation that he got from God. What is the mystery? What is the new truth? That’s number two: Not all Christians are going to die. This is a totally new concept. No Old Testament believer hoped that some future generation of believers would enter into the presence of God physically without experiencing physical death. But Paul is talking about that. He is saying that sometime on planet earth there will be a moment when all of the Christians who are alive on planet earth at that moment will immediately be changed, disappear, and go into the presence of the Lord. You will not have to go via death, if you are part of that crowd.
Now, think about that for a moment. As I get older and things start to hurt here and there and everyplace else and it gets a little tougher to live and so on, if I had my choice of going into the presence of the Lord via physical death; or all of a sudden in the twinkling of an eye, I’m gone, I’m out of here—what would you choose? I’d be out of here, right? Absolutely. Paul says, “Good news! We shall not all sleep. We’re not going to all die.” Now, why did he use the word “sleep”? Do you understand why he uses the word sleep? “Sleep” for most of us is lying in that bed, closing our eyes, and beaming, with a little smile on our face, “Oh, doesn’t this feel good?” If I took a picture of my wife Darlene lying down in the bed at night, putting her head on that pillow, you have never seen such a wonderful smile in your life! She loves that pillow. She loves that bed. I like to just come in there and look at her. It is like she’s having fun lying right in that bed. Is that you? Do you like your bed?
When Jesus Christ died, he was put into the grave, and immediately came out of the grave on the third day and was resurrected. Since Jesus did that, death has had the sting taken out of it. You know, when a bumblebee comes at you, it’s got that stinger. The bumblebee was death. It stung Jesus Christ and Jesus got the stinger and took the stinger out of death. And ever since Jesus Christ died and rose again, the apostles changed the term for death. If you use the word “death,” it implies that when you see that body lying there, there is no hope that anything else will happen to it. That’s it, buddy! The apostle Paul changes it, so he says, “When you see death, we’re going to call it sleep, because really, the body is in repose, and it has a future; it will be resurrected. The same thing that happened to Jesus Christ is going to happen to every believer, just not in the same time period. But you have God’s promise that what happened to his Son Jesus Christ is going to happen to us. We are going to be resurrected. And so we call that time of death “sleep.” The body is just in repose, waiting for the time when we’re resurrected. That’s why he calls it sleep. Does that make sense?
“We shall not all die, we shall not all sleep, but,” number three, “we shall all be changed.” Now, what does that word “change” mean? It means to change the nature of the thing. The mortal, that which is subject to death, take that off. We’re going to put on immortality; a body that’s going to last forever. It’s going to be similar, like our Lord Jesus’ resurrection body. And the older you get, the more you look forward to that, right?
I was in a conference with Dr. Walvoord, and Darlene picked up on what he was saying—and this is in the side part of the verses, you know, in the side part of the manuscripts there—but he says, in his opinion, he thinks everybody is going to, when they get to heaven, is going to be right about 30 years of age. Thirty years of age. Would you like to have your body at about 30 years of age? And he’s got the reason: that’s when Jesus started his ministry. And he’s got these other marginal readings that he brings in. But I think it’s neat, you know? Thirty. That sounds good to me, too. I don’t know if the Bible says that, but that sounds good to me. Just throw that out for you; get a little blessing from that. But the Bible says, “Whatever happens, we’re all going to be changed and we’re going to have our new body. We’re going to have our new body.”
How long will the rapture take, by the way? Well, that’s number four: “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” What is “the twinkling of an eye”? Well, the blinking of an eye is 1/1000th of a second. That’s pretty quick. The Greek word here that is used is atomos, from which we get our word atom. It means you divide the period of time down so small that you can’t divide it any more. The twinkling of an eye actually means when light comes on your open eye and it’s a twinkle that flashes and your eye doesn’t even have time to blink. That fast.
Dr. Paul Meier went to school with Darlene and he wrote a book. It’s a novel on the rapture. It’s interesting. He’s a counselor, you know, a psychiatrist, and he’s got these folks sitting in a counseling office and, interestingly enough, the only person that’s a Christian in the room is the psychiatrist. And these folks are all non-Christians and they’re talking; they’re hassling out their problems; and the doctor’s dealing with them. And in this book all of a sudden, Snap! the counselor is gone. And they’re sitting there and they were just looking at the counselor. Snap! Gone! It’s an exciting little chapter that he’s got there.
But here’s what Paul is saying: all over planet earth, in a moment, some day, millions of Christians all over the earth are just going to be gone. Think about it.
Showers: The second key passage is 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, where Paul says to his readers, “Behold, I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump. For the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible and we shall be changed.” There Paul is emphasizing the fact that there would be an entire generation of Christians who would never experience physical death. And the reason they wouldn’t is because the Lord was going to come and remove them from the earth while they’re still alive, before they would experience physical death. So he’s saying not every Christian will die, but everyone will be changed. And he emphasizes that the change will involve a change in their body, and they now have a mortal body, which is subject to disease, deformity and death; but when this change takes place, they will receive an immortal body which will never die again, which will never be subject to disease and deformity.
Paul’s also emphasizing here the extreme rapidity of the change in the body of Christians when this event takes place. The change in that body will take place faster than that—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. So the rapidity of the change in their bodies, that will happen at the rapture of the Church.
But the third, and really the most extensive, passage on the rapture is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. And I won’t take the time to read all of that, but Jesus is indicating there that the day is coming when he will come out of heaven, he will bring with him the souls of those Christians who have already died. When they died, John, their souls were separated from their bodies; their bodies were buried in the ground and their souls were ushered immediately into the presence of God in heaven. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 5, says for the Christian “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” So when they die, their souls leave their bodies; their souls go into the presence of the Lord in heaven; and that’s where they stay in heaven until Christ comes to rapture the church. He will bring their souls with him out of heaven down toward the earth. We are told that he will come with the blast of a trumpet, the trump of God, with the voice of the archangel. Apparently there will be a great archangel who will accompany him as an escort from the Father’s house in heaven.
And then Paul says when that happens, some intriguing things will begin to transpire here on the face of the earth. The bodies of the Christians who have died will be resurrected from the dead. And the implication is that their descending souls that are coming down from heaven with Christ will be reunited with their resurrected bodies. But then Paul says those Christians who are alive, and still being alive on the earth when the event of the rapture takes place, that they, together with the resurrected Christians, will be caught up from the earth to meet the Lord Jesus in the air.
Now, a couple of significant things about that. The whole concept of being snatched up or caught up from the earth, that’s where the concept of the rapture comes from. The English word rapture is derived from a Latin verb form which means to be snatched or caught up. And so the bride of Christ, the church—involving the resurrected believers, but those as well who have never died—will be caught up from the earth, Paul says, “together, to meet the Lord Jesus in the air.”
Another significant thing about that is, that tells us that in this coming of the Lord, he stops in the air above the earth. He doesn’t come the whole way down to the surface of the earth. As he descends from heaven, from the Father’s house; he stops in the air above the earth and he waits there as his believers are caught up to meet him in the air. And then Paul concludes with these words at the end of verse 17, “and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” That’s significant, because that means once we are raptured to meet Christ in the air, from that time on we shall never be separated from him again. Wherever Jesus goes, we go with him. And that has significance for other future events that the Bible spells out.
So, to put it all together, John, Christ ascended to the Father’s house in heaven on the day of his ascension—Acts 2. He’s been away from us here on the earth ever since in the Father’s house. But, according to John 14, while he’s away, he’s busily engaged in his Father’s house preparing living accommodations or mansions to which he can bring his bride, the church, later on. At the appropriate time, he will come out of the Father’s house in heaven, bringing with him the souls of those church saints who have already died. He will descend toward the earth, but not the whole way down. He will stop in the air, will resurrect the bodies of the Christians who have died, reunite the returning souls with those resurrected bodies, will transform the bodies of the living Christians also into a resurrection-type or immortal-type body, and together those resurrected Christians and living transformed Christians will be caught up from the earth to meet the Lord in the air. And the implication, John, of Jesus’ promise in John 14 is that he’s coming to take them back to the Father’s house in heaven so that they can live in the dwelling places that he’s preparing for the believers now while he’s in the Father’s house in heaven.
Walvoord: In 1 Thessalonians 4, beginning in verse 13, the apostle Paul gives us this revelation. He says in verse 13 that “I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.” Here it makes clear that God wants us to know what prophecy teaches. He wants us to know because this gives us a real hope that the unsaved world doesn’t have. In other words, we can anticipate the wonderful return of Christ.
And then in verse 14 he goes on to state the certainty of it. He said, “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who sleep in Jesus.” Now, you see the resurrection of Christ is a subject of Old Testament prophecy. Now it has been fulfilled. It’s absolutely certain. And what he’s telling us is that the rapture is just as certain as the resurrection of Christ—even though it hasn’t been fulfilled—and so he tells us this is going to be fulfilled.
Then he tells us also that when the rapture occurs, that God will bring with him those who sleep in Jesus. In other words, those who have died in Christian faith are going to be brought back to the earth at the time of the rapture. Now, why? It’s because their bodies are going to be resurrected from the grave and their soul is going to reenter their body. That he goes on to tell us in the verses that follow. “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain by the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 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 will be caught up [or raptured] together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall also be with the Lord.” Now, this gives us the great truths of the rapture of the Church.
Notice the details that he gives us about the rapture. First of all, the Lord is going to descend bodily from heaven to the earth. This is an important event. He actually comes to the air. He never touches the earth. And it says there’s going to be the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God. These things are going to sound the fact that the rapture is going to take place and he’s going to come with a shout. And it’s literally a shout of command. Because he commands, Christians who have died will be resurrected and living Christians, to be translated or given bodies suitable for heaven. When this happens, then Christians who are living, who remain, will be caught up, raptured [that’s where we get the word rapture—caught up or raptured or snatched] together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and thus we shall also always be with the Lord.” And so our prospect is that when the Lord comes, if we’re living we will be changed instantly; if we’re dead as Christians we’ll be raised from the dead and we’ll meet the Lord in the air and then proceed to heaven.
In our previous discussion of John 14, I brought out how Christ said he was going to take the believers, that is the apostles to heaven, and this is the final step in the rapture of the Church—the dead are raised first, the living are changed, they meet the Lord in the air and then they go to heaven. And this is all part of what we call the rapture or the catching up by Christ of the church. And so we have this wonderful truth, that Christ is coming, and that when he does, we’re going to be with Christ forever. And we’re going from earth to heaven.
Now, it’s very important to notice the results of the rapture. The rapture is not a coming of Christ to stay in the earth as a second coming is, but rather a movement from earth to heaven. Just exactly the opposite of what you see about the second coming of Christ which, in my belief, is going to occur sometime later when he comes back to set up his millennial kingdom. “And thus we are always going to be with the Lord.” That’s the wonderful prospect that’s before us.

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