Does the Church Still Believe in the Rapture? – Program 3

By: Dr. Renald Showers, Dr. Paul Feinberg, Dr. Earl Radmacher, Dr. John Feinberg; ©1995
Every generation since the time of Jesus has expected his return during their lifetime. Do we have reason to believe that his return could happen in our lifetime?

When Will Jesus Return?


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 3 [Dallas, Texas]

Ankerberg: Welcome! We’re here in warm and wonderful Dallas, Texas, with a wonderful audience today. We have four men that are some of the key leaders in biblical prophecy in our country and they have major ministries concerning biblical prophecy. We’re glad that you’ve joined us today.
We’re going to start off with a topic that is dear to the heart of all Christians across the country, and that is the doctrine of the rapture. Peter, pick up on this. And the fact is that you’ve heard these guys talks about this, but Christians have been saying that Christ is coming for many, many generations and every generation says, “Hey, we’re expecting Christ now.” Paul said it, the apostles believed it, and so on. How come you think this may be the generation where it’s going to happen?
LaLonde: I think the one thing that everybody has said is that it’s an imminent event. It could have happened at any time. But there are some things in this generation that make us different from any other generation in history, some prophecies that could be fulfilled now that could not have been fulfilled at any other time. And we understand this now. You know, the Lord spoke to Daniel and said, “Seal up the book till the time of the end.” “Knowledge shall be increased.” We’re going to understand things we didn’t understand before. Jesus said in Matthew 24, the disciples came, “What shall be the sign of thy coming and the end of this age?” he said, “Except those last days be shortened, no flesh would be saved.” Not one person on earth. How are you going to do that in the 1800s with bows and arrows and muskets and cannons? How are you going to find, you know, Gilligan out on the island there? You couldn’t possibly do it. There’s a prophecy that says in the last days, “no one can buy or sell unless they have a mark in their right hand or in their forehead” (Rev. 13). How are you going to monitor the buying and selling in the agricultural age that we lived in? Up in Canada, trading beaver pelts for milk and so on, just a few years back. You couldn’t monitor it. In this generation of electronic fund transfer, of instant electronic banking, of databases, of computer technology, suddenly, this is all possible.
Ankerberg: Zola, what would you say to somebody else that comes up with a new scheme and sets a date?
Levitt: You know, above all, the rapture is a surprise. The Lord described it as “in the twinkling of an eye,” “like lightning across the sky.” Who can say, “Go out in the field out here and on the Feast of Trumpets at such an hour lightning would go right across there. Keep your eye up there.” That’s impossible. He wouldn’t use a metaphor like it if it could be predicted. There’s no reason the rapture can’t come before we’re finished here today. But predicting it to come is hopeless. The Lord himself said, “No man knows the day or the hour.”
Ankerberg: Now, did you hear what Peter LaLonde and Dr. Zola Levitt just said? They said that the rapture, Jesus Christ’s return for Christians worldwide, is an imminent event—which means it could happen at any moment. What is the biblical proof for this? Take out your Bibles, and I’d like you to listen first to Dr. John Walvoord, and then to Dr. Renald Showers.
Walvoord: It’s a real privilege to be on this John Ankerberg program and have the opportunity to talk about Christ’s coming for his church which we call “the rapture of the Church.” I’ve been teaching prophecy for more than 50 years at the seminary level. It’s a very precious truth and a very practical one, but it’s more than just a doctrine to me. The idea of being able to see Christ perhaps any day, face to face, is an amazing, electrifying anticipation. And I believe that’s what the Bible teaches and I believe that’s what God wants us to realize and to hope for. And so as I’m dealing with this subject perhaps from a theological, biblical standpoint, it is also from the standpoint that if you really love Christ, you’re going to love his appearing, and this is going to be a precious truth to you.
Now, one of the major problems in prophecy, in fact, the major problem, is there is almost universal ignorance on the subject because it isn’t taught in many churches. And there’s reasons for this. I was in a large Baptist church and Dr. Criswell and I were sharing this conference, and the pastor introduced me by saying he had graduated from a theological seminary, well recognized one, and took a Master’s Degree in theology, didn’t have one lecture on prophecy. He said, “I’m here to learn like the rest of you.” Well, obviously, pastors who haven’t had any training in this field, don’t know what to do with it, aren’t going to preach it—and the result is that many churches are totally ignorant on this subject.
There are other reasons: Perhaps the fact that it’s so confusing; sometimes in churches people will have various opinions. I was in one church at the pastor’s invitation and I asked him if he preached on prophecy. “Oh no,” he said. “I can’t. I don’t know enough.” When I got talking with the people and discovered they had a dozen views there. Any view he took would have offended most of the congregation and that is why he stayed off the subject. So another pastor who is pastor of a church that had the rapture and the premillennial return of Christ as a part of the doctrinal frame, I asked him why he never preached on prophecy. “It’s too technical. It’s too controversial.” And so he avoided the subject completely.
And yet that’s not what the Bible does. About a fourth of the Bible was predicted when it was given, and about half these promises have already been literally fulfilled. So the first thing we want to do in this program is to instruct exactly what the Bible teaches on this important doctrine.
Showers: Now, where do we get this concept that the Lord could come at any moment, maybe even today? Well, there are a number of passages in the New Testament that really convey that concept and I’d like to deal perhaps with just three of them for our study today. First, in 1 Corinthians 16:22, the apostle Paul said to the Corinthian Christians, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema,” and then Paul interjected at the end of this verse this interesting expression, “Maranatha!” Now, what does that term mean? Well, it’s very interesting to note that that word was derived from the Aramaic language. Let me explain.
The Aramaic language was the language that was spoken in the land of Israel during Jesus’ day. From all we can discern, that was even the language that Jesus spoke while he was here in the world. It was kind of a mixture of Hebrew and importing things from other languages where the Jews had lived over the centuries. This was an Aramaic expression. In fact, maranatha is made up of three Aramaic words. The first one is the word mar, which meant “Lord,” and then the next one is ana, which means “our” and the third was tha, which means “come.” So putting it together, maranatha means “Our Lord, Come.”
The interesting thing is, this was in the form of a petition so that when Christians would make that statement, as Paul did here, he was actually petitioning the Lord to come. Now, the question is, “Why petition the Lord to come if he can’t come at any moment?” If you know that he can’t come until a year from now or ten years from now or 100 or 1,000 years from now, it would really be useless to be petitioning the Lord as if he could come right now.
Another intriguing thing about this is that, although this is an Aramaic expression which apparently began with Jewish believers in the Lord Jesus in the land of Israel during the first century, here Paul uses this word to Greek-speaking people at a Greek church in the city of Corinth, and he’s writing it in a letter that he wrote in the Greek language. And so scholars have asked the question: “Why would Paul throw out an Aramaic term at people who knew the Greek language and in a Greek book that he’s writing?” Scholars have concluded that the reason for that is that this expression had become a widespread expression by Christians all over the ancient world. Even though they may not have known any other expression in the Aramaic language, they learned what this one meant, so they used it as a byword; some feel they even used it as a greeting when they would see each other to identify themselves as believers. They would say, “Maranatha” (“Our Lord, come.”) But again, it’s conveying the concept that the Lord could come at any moment, otherwise, why petition him to come? It’s imminence that’s being conveyed here.
Ankerberg: Does the Bible teach that the rapture is an imminent event? Dr. Earl Radmacher, chancellor of Western Theological Seminary, talks about the evidence that led him to believe this is true.
Dr. Earl Radmacher: Well, if I were to narrow it down to one thing that is most convincing to me in the Scripture for the pre-tribulational rapture, as a theologian who speaks on doctrine regularly, it would be the doctrine of the imminent return of the Lord; that is, the fact that there is no prophecy that needs to be fulfilled before Jesus Christ returns for his church. Now, it’s interesting to me that this has been believed as the teaching of the Scripture, both by those who don’t believe the Scripture, and by those who do. For example, I could go to a liberal commentary like C. K. Barrett’s Commentary on John, and he says, “There is no question about the fact that all of the apostles believed in the imminent return of the Lord.” Now, he said they were wrong, and, of course, that’s often a liberal argument to say that they believed that and they were wrong. But we need to start with: What did they believe? What does the text teach?
So, when you come to a passage like James 5, and he is warning the Christians concerning their attitudes towards those who work for them and he says, “Remember, the judge stands at the door.” That is, it can happen immediately. It may not happen for a long time, but it can happen immediately. So, there is no prophesied sign that needs to take place before the Lord Jesus comes. I believe that that is the strongest doctrinal argument for the pre-tribulation rapture; because if it is any time after the beginning of the 70th week of Daniel and the signing of the covenant between the world leader and the nation of Israel guaranteeing peace to them, that is going to be an obvious sign that the whole world will be cognizant of. And certainly, the whole period of the great tribulation will be fulfilled through many, many prophesied statements in the Word of God.
Walvoord: The Bible predicts a sequence of events that leads up to the second coming of Christ, including the formation of a revived Roman Empire in ten nations; the emergence of the man of sin who later on becomes the Antichrist who conquers three of these countries and then all ten. When he gets to that position of power he’s going to make a seven-year covenant with Israel of peace. He observes it for three and a half years and then the last three and a half, he breaks it and becomes the leader of the world and also the persecutor of Israel. It’s the great tribulation as Christ mentioned.
Now, the question in regard to the rapture is, where does it fit into this sequence of events? And I believe 1 Thessalonians 4 and also 1 Corinthians 15 tell us a very important point. You notice there are no prophecies that precede it. In fact, every passage on the rapture in the New Testament deals with something that could occur any day. It has an imminence to it. We’re never told to look for anything else like the man of sin or anything else that might anticipate the end time; instead, we’re asked to look for the coming of Christ. In other words, it is intended to be something that could be expected from the first century till now.
And, of course, that is true in 1 Thessalonians 4 where he addressed the Thessalonian Christians. They had lost some loved ones. He offered it to them as a wonderful hope that any day Christ could come, and as far as our knowledge is concerned, it could have occurred any time from the first century till now. But God has not seen fit to give us the dates.
We sometimes have preachers that try to set dates. In 1988 we had a preacher who sold two million copies of his books that taught that Christ was coming in September. Of course, people wrote me and asked me to refute it. I said, “Just wait till September.” You know, all these predictions can be fulfilled or not fulfilled and that proves whether they’re prophetic or not.
And so the coming of Christ is not dated in the Bible but the important point is that there’s nothing between us and the rapture. It could occur today.
Showers: A second significant passage out of many others in the New Testament on the imminency of the Lord’s return is 1 Thessalonians 1:10. Here the apostle Paul, in this context, is talking about commendable attitudes or deeds which were characteristic of the Thessalonian Christians of this time. And one of those commendable attitudes or actions was this: they were “waiting for God’s Son from heaven.”
Now, some fascinating things about the verb form translated “wait.” That word literally meant “to wait up for,” and it was used back in the ancient world for people who were waiting up for the arrival of a person whom they were expecting to come. Now, the idea behind that is, they were waiting up for this arrival. It’s the idea that they didn’t go to bed at their normal time, and the reason they wouldn’t go to bed at their normal time was because they were expecting this person could arrive at any moment. If they knew that this person couldn’t arrive, say, for another four, five, six hours, the normal thing for them would not be to wait up but to go to bed for the four, five or six hours, set the alarm clock—if they had alarm clocks at that time—and then wake up at the time that they knew the person would arrive. So the very fact that Paul says that the Thessalonian Christians had the attitude of waiting up for God’s Son to come from heaven tells us that they were expecting him to come from heaven at any moment.
Another interesting thing about this term, and scholars point this out, is that this indicates patience and confidence. And in addition, it’s in the present tense. And normally in the original language of the New Testament the present tense, unless the context tells us otherwise, has the idea of a continuous action. So Paul was teaching here that the Thessalonian Christians were continuously and patiently awaiting the Lord’s coming, waiting up for him to come, because they were confident that he could come at any moment. Again, the idea is, they believed in the imminent return of the Lord Jesus.
Now, a question we could ask at this point was this: Where did they get this idea from, that the Lord could return at any moment? Well, when you read the book of Acts which records what Paul did when he went to the city of Thessalonica on one of his missionary journeys, we find that Paul is the one who taught them what they knew about the Scriptures and the truth of God. When you read 1 Thessalonians there are several indications; Paul reminds them of things that he had taught them when he was with them. So if the apostle Paul had been their major teacher of God’s truth, to my way of thinking that implies that Paul was the one who had taught them of the imminent coming of Christ, that he could come from heaven at any moment for his believers to take them home to glory to be with him. It’s very intriguing to notice as well that Paul did not rebuke them or correct them for having this expectation and this attitude, and there’s no indication that he rebuked them or corrected them at all. In fact, when you read the context, he seems to be commending them for having this attitude. So I get the distinct impression that Paul was fully convinced himself that the Lord come return at any moment and therefore they were right in having this expectancy.
Then, a third passage that I’d like to focus our attention upon for the imminence of the Lord’s return is in the book of James. And this is found in chapter 5 of James and we want to begin with verse 7. “Be patient, therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord; behold the husbandman waits for the precious fruit of the earth and has long patience for it until he receive the early and latter rain. Be you also patient; establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord draws nigh. Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge stands before the door.”
I’d like to draw your attention to two verb forms that James uses here. At the end of verse 8 he says, “the coming of the Lord draws nigh,” and then in verse 9, “the judge stands before the door.” Very important thing to note here is that in the original language that James wrote, both of those verbs are in what the Greeks called the perfect tense. And the significance of the Greek perfect tense was that it is referring to an action that was completed in the past but then there is a resultant state that continues on from that action. It just continues on indefinitely. What James is indicating thereby is this: that the Lord’s coming had already drawn near before James wrote this letter, and the Lord’s coming continues to be near at hand even while James wrote the letter, and it would continue thereafter.
And as well, the judge stands before the door. He was saying that there’s a sense in which Jesus Christ, as the judge of believers, took his position at the door of heaven and was standing there; he even took that position and began to stand there before James wrote this epistle and he continues to stand at the door of heaven. A number of scholars that I researched on this said James is trying to emphasize to his readers the imminence of the Lord’s return. The idea is, the Lord could come as the judge of heaven through that door of heaven at any moment. And then immediately, Christians would stand before him at the Judgment Seat of Christ. They have their works as believers evaluated by the Lord. It’s imminence that he’s talking about here. And I’m convinced that just as it was imminent back then, the Lord could have stepped through the door of heaven at any moment at that time; the same is true today—that Christ could step through the door of heaven at any moment and we who are believers in Jesus Christ would be ushered into his presence and then would stand before him at the Judgment Seat of Christ to have our works evaluated by the Lord.
Now, one of the very interesting things by way of practical application is that James says to the believers to whom he is writing in verse 9, “Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest you be condemned; behold, the Judge stands before the door.” What James is emphasizing is, the fact that Jesus Christ could return at any moment and take us as believers before him in the Judgment Seat of Christ ought to be a tremendous motivating factor for believers for godly, holy living, proper conduct, and how we treat one another.
I get the distinct impression from God’s Word when I look at all the imminence passages that are in the New Testament that God intends the whole fact that Christ could come at any moment to perhaps be the greatest motivating factor that we as Christians have for godly living, moment by moment, day by day, because we don’t know when it is that the Lord is going to come out of heaven and see him face to face and our works will be evaluated by him at the Judgment Seat of Christ. This is a very critical truth of the Word of God, and I’m convinced it’s one that ought to be emphasized tremendously in Bible believing circles today because of the implications it has for us in how we live out our lives day by day by day for his honor and for his glory.

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