RAPTURE AND THE HOLY SPIRIT

What did Paul mean when he said that the power of evil will be held back until the one who holds it back is taken away? I answer that question here, in written form (no or few images) and in a video.

Image by me, Nick Fisher.

A link to the video is at the bottom. The thrust of this new edition of the subject is no different to that in my book, but I think I’ve probably made it clearer here than it was.

RAPTURE AND THE HOLY SPIRIT

Some people believe, based on the words of Paul, that there’s coming a day before the Tribulation when the Holy Spirit will be withdrawn from the earth into heaven, and that the Church will go with Him. Is this true?

A key scripture passage used in this theory is in Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians:

And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time.

For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way.

 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming (2 Thessalonians 2:6-8). 

Paul says in this chapter that a flood of wickedness which is constantly held in check by the Spirit of God, and the one who epitomizes it-the Antichrist-can only be released when the one who holds him back has been “taken out of the way”. This event is sometimes referred to as the removal of the Restrainer.

Image by John Salvino, thanks to Unsplash.

Here are the assumptions and the theory drawn by some from this passage:

PRE-TRIBULATION THEORY:

The “seven-year tribulation” cannot begin until the Holy Spirit is taken into heaven.

The Holy Spirit would not, and cannot, leave the Church behind on the earth, since He indwells her (Ephesians 1:13-14; Romans 8:9-11).

Therefore, all true believers will be taken into heaven with the Spirit before the Tribulation begins.

NO STATEMENT

Our first observation from 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 is that there’s no statement to the effect that the Holy Spirit will be taken from the earth into heaven: it’s just assumed that’s what Paul means. Here’s what he actually said:

And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way”.

The power of God, or the restraining hand of God, or the Holy Spirit of God, will be taken out of the way. We could observe that something or someone can be taken out of the way of something, without being entirely removed to another place, just as we might move out of the way of an approaching car, without going to the next town to do it. It’s not at all clear from this verse or any others that the Holy Spirit will be entirely removed and taken to heaven.

HANDS OFF

There are Biblical precedents for the restraining hand of God being removed. One is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Here, Paul describes a culture which has persistently turned its back on God, and His laws and ways. Paul writes repeatedly that God reluctantly handed them over to their wickedness:

God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity (Romans 1:24).

God gave them over to shameful lusts (verse 26).

God gave them over to a depraved mind (verse 28).

This speaks not necessarily of God vacating the earth, but simply abandoning the wicked to their chosen ways.

The hand of God has worked throughout history to hold back the flood of evil which would ensue without Him.

Image by Miguel Bruna, thanks to Unsplash.

IS THE CHURCH THE RESTRAINER?

Some people think that the restraining power at work is at least in part the Church of Jesus Christ. it’s the influence of Christians in the world which is preventing Antichrist from being revealed, they think, and that’s what Paul is referring to in second Thessalonians. When the Church is raptured and all the true Christians are gone,, there will be nothing to stop the world falling headlong into rebellion.

There’s a degree of truth to the idea that Christians diminish the effects of evil in our world. We are, after all, “the salt of the earth”. But do we really hold back the Antichrist? We failed to hold back Hitler, and WW2 saw the deaths of tens of millions of people, including six million Jews. We failed to hold back Stalin, Pol Pott and Mao, who between them murdered over a hundred million of their own people, including Christians. We failed to hold back the Black Death which killed a third of the population of Europe, including Christians. Furthermore, and more specifically, there is no statement in Paul’s letter or anywhere else in Scripture declaring that Christians are holding back the power of Antichrist and Satan. It’s an assumption only.

Neither did Paul say that the Holy Spirit must be taken into heaven in order to let Antichrist loose: this is also an assumption. It’s an assumption based on circular reasoning.

Can we be certain about what Paul meant so say in this verse which includes the phrase “taken out of the way”? Perhaps we can’t be 100%v certain from this passage alone. However, if we look at the elements of the verse in question we see that (show the slide and speak this) it is speaking of “the one” in terms that suggest a person is holding back the power of lawlessness, and this “one” will be taken out of the way. The effect of this will be a release of wickedness, according to the next verse.

And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way”.

However, there’s no mention of “the one” going to heaven.

THE DEEPER ISSUE

But there’s an even deeper issue to consider which settles the mystery. It’s the issue of the saints of Revelation.

ACCORDING TO REVELATION, THERE WILL BE BELIEVERS IN JESUS CHRIST ALIVE ON THE EARTH DURING THE TRIBULATION.

During the tribulation the gospel will be preached to all nations and ethnic backgrounds:

Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people (Revelation 14:6).

And Revelation is clear that here will be believers alive on the earth during that time:

Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus (Revelation 12:17).

This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus (Revelation 14:12).

MESSIANIC JEWS?

Sometimes tribulation saints in Revelation are described as Messianic Jews, or as being somehow different to believers found in the universal Church today. I discussed the terms used for believers in Revelation in a two-part video entitled

“Is the Church Really Missing from Revelation Chapter 4 onwards?”

In these videos, I show in detail that John used the same terms for tribulation saints as he did for himself and his peers in the first century Church. Tribulation saints are no different to the saints of today.

Therefore, at this point we need to ask a few questions:

Could these tribulation believers have faith without the Holy Spirit? Could they stand firm in their faith against the power of evil and the Antichrist, without the aid of the Holy Spirit of God?

At the heart of our study and its relevance to the timing of the rapture is the relationship of these tribulation saints to the Holy Spirit of God, because according to numerous New Testament passages,

NO SPIRIT, NO SAINTS

There can be no salvation, and no relationship with Jesus Christ, without the presence, the indwelling, and the work of the Holy Spirit!

Let’s look briefly at a few of those verses, first from Paul’s letter to the Romans:

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:5-8).

Paul clearly lays out an “either-or” scenario here. Either a person is led by the Holy Spirit and is able to please God in the way he lives, or he is not led by the Spirit, and he is walking in the flesh. (PAUSE).

He goes on:

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him (Romans 8:9 ESV).

Here Paul is being even more pointed. If the Spirit of God is in you, you will live in the Spirit. And look closely at the second part of the verse:

And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.

Does this insistence of Paul’s mean we have to seek to receive the Holy Spirit in order to be saved? No, it doesn’t and Paul’s first-century gospel-the one he preached around the known world, outlined in the first seven verses of 1 Corinthians chapter 15, does not include seeking to receive the Spirit. The Spirit is all packaged in with receiving Jesus Christ.

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:1-7 NKJV)

ONE SPIRIT

Anyone without the Spirit does not belong to Jesus Christ, says Paul. Remember, there is only one Spirit:

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Romans 4:4-6 ESV).

What does this say, then, about “those who remain faithful to Jesus” in Revelation? Can they be without the Spirit, and still belong to Christ? Not according to Paul. Paul gets even more direct:

But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of] his Spirit who lives in you. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you (Romans 8:10-11).

The Holy Spirit gives life, and resurrection. How then, will those saints of Revelation be raised and immortalized without the work of the Holy Spirit, when the Spirit is exactly what is needed for life, according to Paul.

This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus (Revelation 14:12).

And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14).

There’s more. These saints of Revelation are said to remain faithful to Jesus. They have washed their robes in the blood of the lamb, we’re told. How does that happen? Paul spells it out for us. He’s already told us that it is only by walking in the Spirit that a man or woman can please God in the way that he lives. But he also tells us that the Holy Spirit is required to wash and to sanctify the believer:

But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 3:11).

From the samples of Scripture so far we’ve seen that the Holy Spirit is required for washing from sin, for sanctification, for living a life pleasing to God, for regeneration (since the Spirit gives life), for resurrection from death, and for belonging to Jesus Christ. And this is not by any means an exhaustive list of verses outlining the relationship between the Holy Spirit and believers in Jesus Christ.

THE TEMPLE OF GOD

But there’s one more thing we need to see that the Spirit is required for. Paul explained to the Corinthians that they as believers were the temple of God:

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16 NASB).

The newer version of the NIV has added the words “your midst” to the end of this verse, changing its meaning somewhat. This may be something of a warning to you who use the version, because most or all other established dependable versions state this verse in the same way as the NASB:

 The KJV states this:

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? (KJV).

This is the New King James Version:

Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (NKJV)

And this is how the ESV words it:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

The New Revised Standard Version says it this way:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (NRSV).

In short, most or all serious translations tell us that the Holy Spirit lives in us, and that we as believers are the temple of God. To clear up any doubt on the issue, let’s read what Paul told the Corinthians:

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:12-13 NKJV).

The body of Christ includes all believers. No-one outside of that body is in Christ, and anyone in the body has been baptized into it by the Holy Spirit. Also, says Paul, they have been given the same spirit. He wrote the same thing to the Ephesians:

 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:4-6).

And if this isn’t clear enough, let’s read one more relevant verse:

But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17).

We can’t be one with Jesus Christ, says Paul, and not be united with the Holy Spirit.

Let’s consider again believers of the tribulation. They’re washed in the blood of the lamb. They remain faithful to Jesus. They hold to the testimony of Jesus. They refuse the mark of the beast, and they willingly suffer the persecution which results. Those who die for the name of Christ are hailed with a special blessing:

And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.” (Revelation 14:13 NASB).

Our conclusion, then has to be that Tribulation saints will have the Holy Spirit: He cannot be removed from the world, and His being taken out of the way, refers to His hand of restraint being removed.

Can we really expect those saints, standing against the insults and the hatred of the world and the antichrist, willing to experience hardship and even death for the name of the Lord Jesus, to live this way without the Holy Spirit? How can they? How could they be faithful to Jesus, oppose the world and the antichrist, and die for their Lord, if they did not have the Holy Spirit of God in them and with them?

And this leads unavoidably to another point I made in an earlier video. If tribulation saints were not in the body of Christ-that is, the Church-whose body could they be in? I f they are not a part of the Church, what could they be a part of? Who do they belong to? Are they excluded from Christ? Having suffered for their Lord, are they going to be rejected by Him?

These rhetorical questions have an obvious answer. And even more than that is the clear implication, that

IF THE HOLY SPIRIT IS STILL ON THE EARTH, INDWELLING AND EMPOWERING BELIEVERS IN JESUS CHRIST DURING THE TRIBULATION, THE CHURCH IS ALSO STILL ON THE EARTH!

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