Tag: WHEN WILL THE RAPTURE BE?

RAPTURE 19: WHO ARE “THE HOLY ONES” WHO RETURN WITH CHRIST?

If you’re honestly interested in the timing of the rapture, and if you’re brave enough to face the truth, here are some of the results of years of my own “no nonsense” study on the subject. I was a “pre-trib” believer for twenty-eight years. I now know how misinformed and wrong I was. Get the facts, and stop believing the hype…*

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Are “the holy ones” who return to earth with Jesus Christ the raptured Church, as pre-tribulation preachers claim? This post is related to earlier ones in the series which concern the Bride of Christ.

THE ARMIES OF HEAVEN

At or very near the end of the tribulation Jesus Christ will appear in the sky for the whole world to see. We read in scripture that he will come with a multitude, sometimes described as a “cloud”. Some Christians believe this prophesied multitude is the Church. The Church will have been in heaven with Jesus Christ for at least seven years, they say, and now she’s going to return with him to help defeat his enemies and claim the world.

We read in Revelation chapter 19:11-16 that the “armies of heaven” follow Christ into the skies of earth from heaven. They’re not named or identified, but they’re riding white horses, and they’re dressed in fine white linen, just as the Bride of Christ is given to wear earlier in the chapter (verse 14). I’ve seen numerous paintings or drawings of believers in flowing white robes, riding white horses to the earth for battle. As if to confirm the conviction that this army is the Church, Chapter 17 verse 14 says that when Christ overcomes the Beast, “with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers”. It may seem to be a reasonable and obvious assumption that this is the raptured Church riding from heaven to the earth with Christ. However, it really isn’t that clear-cut, and I offer here some considerable contrary observations to this view.

When the text says that the Lamb’s followers will be “with him” (17:14) it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be a part of what we could call “the Armageddon attack-force” from heaven. It may just mean that Christ’s victory is their victory, and that they’re going to be “with him”, in his presence, for eternity as his bride, because they’ve been faithful to him in the world.

Secondly, even if the Church is to be part of the Armageddon attack force, the attack will occur, according to Revelation,  when the beast and his ten kings are making war against Jesus Christ-and not before (verses 12-14). Therefore this event is not pre-tribulational. It’s not even before the mid-point of the “seven year tribulation”. It’s near the end of the last three and a half years, and probably at the end of them. We know that because this is the allotted time for the beast to hold power over the world:

The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for forty-two months”(Revelation 13:5).

There is therefore no clear reason to assume from chapter 19 that the Church has already been in heaven for seven years. If what we read about is really the Church leaving heaven on white horses with Jesus, it could just as well have been in heaven for a week, a month, or a year or two-there’s no way of knowing from this passage.

Thirdly, we can’t identify the riders just by what they wear. It’s not just the redeemed who wear clean white linen: angels do also:

“Out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues. They were dressed in clean, shining linen” (15:6).

Fourth, when Christ leaves heaven with ‘the armies of heaven’, the words “Church” and “Bride” are not used to describe those armies! (19:14).

PAUL’S CLEAR STATEMENT ON THE MATTER

Fifth, Paul describes Christ’s coming in vengeance, not “with us”, but “with his powerful angels” or “mighty angels” (KJV). We can’t assign these labels to the Church, because Paul makes a clear distinction in his letters between the Church and the angels of heaven. This distinction is first made in his first letter, when he prays that when Jesus comes to bring vengeance, Christ will see the believers of Thessalonica as being blameless:

…so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones” (1 Thessalonians 3:13).

In this above verse we have the Thessalonians in clear distinction from the “holy ones” coming with Jesus.

In his second letter, Paul tells believers that they will be avenged and rewarded when Christ and his angels arrive in blazing fire:

He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled…”This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels” (2 Thessalonians 1:7).

NOT THE CHURCH!

Why did Paul make this distinction if the “attack force” from heaven is the Church? Again, notice what Paul did not say. He did not say “…on the day he comes with his holy people and all of us who have believed”. Paul’s statements demand two different sets of followers-the attack force and the rescued.

Jesus said that when He comes in power and great glory, it will be the angels who will come with him (Matthew 25: 31). He didn’t say “you will come with him” or “the Church will come with him”. Jesus will send his angels to gather his elect (Matthew 24:30-31; 13:40-43). Perhaps the Bride will have made herself ready for the wedding supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7-9) but not to fight the battle of Armageddon! As I asked rhetorically in a previous chapter, how many grooms have wedding celebrations and then immediately take their brides out onto the battlefield?

SAINTS

The KJV speaks of the ‘saints’ coming with Christ (Zechariah 14:5; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; Jude 5:8). The word translated ‘saints’ can also be translated “holy ones”, or “morally blameless”, so they are not necessarily people: they may be angels who did not fall with Lucifer. But even if we were to understand the word ‘saints’ to mean “believers” or “Church” the pre-tribulaion position gains nothing, because ’saints’ are seen to be persecuted throughout the Tribulation! (Revelation 13:7-10).

*My book, “ALL LEFT BEHIND: THE CASE AGAINST THE PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE”, is available on Amazon. However, it’s also being published here piece by piece, in an updated and edited form. This post is part 19. Stay tuned or follow me to continue. Thanks for your time.

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RAPTURE 18: THE BLESSED HOPE, AND THE GLORIOUS APPEARING

The “blessed hope” spoken of in the Bible is seen by some as a pre-tribulation rapture. Certainly for the believer in Jesus Christ the change from mortality to immortality is a blessed hope, but it’s not accurate to say that the “blessed hope” mentioned by Paul to Titus is the pre-tribulation rapture.

Paul didn’t call the rapture the blessed hope at all, although the rapture is associated with the appearance of Jesus. He said the blessed hope is the appearance of Jesus:

“…while we wait for the blessed hope-the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ…” (Titus 2:13).

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When Jesus appears we will be changed and we will be with him for ever, but Paul didn’t say anything about rapture or being “snatched up” before tribulation here: it’s just assumed that’s what he meant. In a sense, the appearing of Jesus Christ in this passage, and in others, has been hijacked to support a theory.

What did Paul mean by the “appearing” of Jesus Christ? The answer seems obvious. But was, as some think, Paul talking about Jesus appearing only to his Church to take them to heaven, or was he talking about his physical appearance to the whole world at the end of the tribulation? Are there two separate appearings as is claimed, or just one?

Jesus’ first appearance to the world was a physical, tangible appearance for anyone who was in his vicinity to see, whether believer or unbeliever:

He appeared in a body…” (1 Timothy 3: 16).

When resurrected, he appeared to his disciples in physical form (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). He told Thomas to touch his hands and his side and stop doubting (John 20:26-28).

Years after Jesus’ ascension John wrote that, “When he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). The word translated “appears” here is the same one used to describe his on-earth appearance in a risen state to his eleven disciples, which was, as noted, physical (Mark 16:14). This word “appears” means, according to Strong’s Concordance (see note 1 on chapter 6) “reveal”; “make known”; “appear”; “be disclosed”; “displayed”. The word “reveal” seems, logically, to negate a secret appearance, as do all the others.

The same word is used in Paul’s letter to the Colossians:

When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4).

The writer of Hebrews tells us that:

He will appear a second time…to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28).

Who will be waiting for Jesus? Is it only those taken up in a pre-tribulation rapture? Surely, the “elect”, who have been living through the tribulation, who Jesus will command his angels to gather at the end of the tribulation, will be waiting for him at least as much as we are now (Matthew 24:31)? And there’s no mention anywhere of him appearing a “third time”, as there should be if the rapture were this second “appearing” at a much earlier date than the gathering of the elect.

Paul used the phrase “appearing of Jesus Christ” on other occasions. He told Timothy to fight the good fight of faith “until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Timothy 6:14). He used the same Greek word here translated “appearing” as he had used in the Titus verse, when he said “the glorious appearing of our great God and savior”.

It’s interesting that in the above verse Paul didn’t tell Timothy to keep his command until he was taken up to heaven in the rapture. The relevant event Timothy was to aim for was the appearing of Jesus Christ.

These verses could perhaps be claimed, as they are, by any rapture theory. However, Paul’s statement to the Thessalonians nails the point much more clearly, when he said that the Lord would bring relief and avenge those causing them trouble:

This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels….They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).

These verses state unequivocally that believers will not see Jesus until he is revealed to punish those who have rejected him and who have persecuted his people. The day he appears to punish wrongdoers is the same day, according to Paul, that he will appear to be glorified by his people, which includes the Thessalonian church. This, according to Paul, is the day on which Jesus will be “revealed”.

The word “reveal” is one meaning of the word “appears” according to Strong’s Concordance. And Peter also uses the word “reveal” to speak of the time when Jesus will appear to his people:

But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).

When these two passages are honestly considered together, the concept of a secret, pre-tribulation rapture melts away. Peter said that believers will be overjoyed when Christ’s glory is revealed, and Paul said that believers will be rewarded and avenged when Christ’s glory is revealed, “in blazing fire”.

We could entertain the argument, as pre-tribulation believers must, that “the day” Paul speaks of above is a general time-period. However, we already know from the Olivet Discourse that there is going to be a specific “day and hour” when Jesus will appear to punish the wicked. At the very least the two opposites in the Thessalonians verses-the marveling of those who believe and the punishment of the wicked-are happening at the same general time. There is no hint in these verses of a time-period of several years of earth-shattering events to separate the two-it has to be inserted between the lines.

GLORIOUS APPEARING

Here’s that Titus verse again:

“…while we wait for the blessed hope-the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ…” (Titus 2:13).

Now let’s compare that verse with Jesus’ description, in his Olivet Discourse, of his appearance for all the world to see.:

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…” (Matthew 24:30-31).

Paul and Titus were waiting for “the glorious appearing” of Jesus: Jesus said that he will appear to the whole world in “power and great glory”. Notice the word “glorious” in the first verse above and “glory” in the second, which both come from the same Greek word. It’s used again by Jesus in Luke’s gospel:

If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26).

There’s no talk here or anywhere else of people being “left behind” after a secret appearance of Jesus.

Peter used similar language in his first letter:

But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13). Again, the word translated “glory” is the same as that used by Jesus referring to his own future appearing in power and glory for all the world to see.

The common theme in many scripture verses concerning Christ’s appearing is punishment being delivered at the same time as reward:

They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.”

The “blessed hope”, says Paul, is “the glorious appearing” of our savior.

Thanks for reading. This post is an excerpt from chapter 10 of my book, “ALL LEFT BEHIND: THE CASE AGAINST THE PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE”, by Nicholas Fisher. It’s available on Amazon.

RAPTURE 17: WHEN? PAUL’S CLEAR STATEMENT!

Last time I discussed what Paul didn’t say about the rapture, which omission is a strong indicator of its timing. Here, in a mercifully shorter post, I’ll briefly include what Jesus didn’t say. Then I will point out one of the clear statements which Paul did make concerning the rapture’s timing. I once ignored such statements, as others do now…

WHAT JESUS DIDN’T SAY

In his Olivet Discourse Jesus spoke of the destruction of the temple, which was to occur a few decades later (Matthew 24:1-2). When his disciples then asked him about the end of the age, he summarized what was to come, from verse 4 and ending at verse 14. Then He gave them the clearest clue, or the most significant event to look for, as the trigger of last-days events. He called  it “the abomination of desolation”, first spoken of by Daniel (verse 15). The abomination of desolation will occur in association with the revealing presence of Antichrist on the temple mount in Jerusalem. According to Jesus, this will effectively be the sign that the turmoil of great tribulation is beginning. In verse 21 we read:

For then will be great distress, unequaled from beginning of the world until now-and never to be equaled again”.

When Antichrist goes to work on the temple mount, said Jesus, there will be “great distress”, unequaled through all history. This initial sign of tribulation given by Jesus aligns with what Paul wrote, saying that the first signs of “the day of the Lord” would be a “falling away” and the revealing of the man of sin. 

Neither Jesus or Paul said anything about a rapture or a gathering of believers happening before the “abomination” event. Why not? Paul did tell the Gentile church about the rapture in  his first letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 4, so why didn’t he tell them in his second letter that it would occur as a first sign, in order to put their fears to rest? Jesus spoke about the resurrection and the gathering of his elect at the end of the tribulation: why didn’t he say anything about a gathering which would precede tribulation events? Neither of them said anything along these lines:

When you see millions of believers vanish from the earth, know that the time is near”

Instead, Jesus said :

..but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (verse 14).

MYSTERY UNVEILED

Pre-tribulation teachers answer the problem of why Paul and Jesus omitted talk of the rapture while discussing the Day of the Lord by saying that the rapture was a “mystery”. But Paul did speak about the rapture, in his first letter to the Thessalonians-the one before the second letter in which the signs of the day of the Lord are given. He also discussed the rapture in his first letter to the Corinthians, saying, “I tell you a mystery”. He didn’t say “I know a mystery but I’m not going to tell you what it is”. He didn’t say, “Behold, I hide a mystery from you”: the rapture was an open topic. Thessalonians and Corinthians (and so probably others also) were told about the mystery. And we too know it, because we’ve read these letters many times. Yet when giving the initial signs of the Day of the Lord, Jesus and Paul said nothing about the rapture!

Another pertinent fact is that Jesus was in fact speaking to his  closest disciples during the Olivet Discourse: people who would shortly become the first members of his spirit-filled, saved and sanctified Christian Church at Pentecost. To them-born again Christians-he gave the signs of tribulation and things to look out for during that tribulation.

A CLEAR STATEMENT: 1 THESSALONIANS 3

Paul’s wish and prayer was that the Thessalonians would be, “…blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones” (1 Thess. 3:13). This thought about being blameless is echoed by John in one of his letters:

And now, dear children, continue in him so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming (1 John 2: 28).

Paul hoped that the Thessalonians-predominantly Gentile believers- would be blameless and holy when Jesus comes “with all his holy ones”. When, according to Scripture, will Jesus come with all his holy ones? Is it in a pre-tribulation rapture, or at his visible appearing to the entire world? Paul answers the question himself:

God is just: he will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels” (2 Thess. 1:6-7).

Didn’t Paul want the Thessalonians to be “blameless and holy” at a secret coming of Jesus, years before Christ’s “blazing fire” appearance with all his holy ones? Why be in the presence of Jesus for seven years before you have to be “confident and unashamed before him at his coming”? And the “relief” which the Thessalonians would receive, says Paul, does not come before the Tribulation, but at the visible appearing of Jesus Christ to bring judgment and rewards.

Paul is telling the Thessalonians that he wants them to be blameless and unashamed when Jesus appears in his grand entrance for all the world to see-which is at the end of the tribulation. This statement-ignored by pre-tribulation believers-directly contradicts the concept of a pre-tribulation Rapture.

Thanks for reading. This post is an updated and edited excerpt from my book, “All Left Behind: The Case Against a Pre-Tribulation Rapture”, by Nicholas Fisher, available on Amazon.

RAPTURE 15(b): SUPPER TIME

Greetings dear reader. Here’s a continuation of my post on the Bride of Christ in relation to the rapture…

There’s some disagreement as to the actual timing of the marriage supper mentioned in Revelation chapter 19. Is it immediately after the rapture, when the tribulation is about to commence; just before the middle of the tribulation when things will really begin to heat up on the earth, or is it towards the end, just before the physical return of Christ? Is it even after the return of Christ to the earth? 

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We’re introduced to the wedding supper by an angel in verse 9 of chapter 19. He speaks immediately after a great multitude in heaven declares that the “wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready” (verses 6-8). It seems to be a natural conclusion that this multitude in heaven, before Christ rides out of heaven on his white horse, praising God for the wedding and the wedding supper, must indeed be the raptured Church, meaning that the rapure occurred before or at least during the tribulation. But when we read the chapter a little more carefully we find some serious problems for this conviction, because the wedding supper is announced at some time after the destruction of the “great prostitute”, or false religion, is celebrated in verses 1 to 3. It’s the Antichrist and his ten henchmen “kings” who are the ones to destroy the prostitute:

They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire” (Revelation 17:16).

To think that the reference to the supper in chapter 19 is a random interjection; an “Oh by the way-don’t forget that the wedding will be before this” sort of reference to something which already happened years ago, and that it is not at all related to its position in the dialogue, is a hopeful assumption without reason.

Since Antichrist can only rule for the last three and a half years of the tribulation (13:5 with 17:12) and his destruction of the “great prostitute” is announced just before the wedding and the wedding supper are also announced, it would seem logical to deduce that the wedding supper of the Lamb is being announced after the mid point of the proposed seven year tribulation, because this is when Antichrist and the ten will gain power. There is therefore no certainty that the bride-if this is the bride in chapter 19- has been in heaven for the entirety of the assumed seven-year period.

There’s also no certainty that the bride is in heaven at all when the wedding and the wedding supper are being proclaimed. As the bride is merely mentioned in chapter 19 before Christ rides in glory to the earth, it’s assumed that she’s been in heaven for the entire tribulation, and that the supper is either occurring at this point or has already taken place. But is she actually, really there at all, even in chapter 19?

A great multitude shouts:

Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready” (19:7).

The multitude is speaking not of itself but is speaking in the third person: “his bride has made herself ready”. The KJV also uses the word “herself”, and doesn’t say “We have made ourselves ready”. In other words, the multitude seems to be shouting about other people, not about themselves or even those to whom they’re shouting. The bride is not located or pointed out in this chapter 19 scene. John does not say, “And behold, I saw the bride of the Lamb”. The wedding supper event is not described at all: it’s not in progress. If it’s already been held, it seems almost inconceivable that it hasn’t been at least mentioned or noticed by John. And how many grooms would have a wedding supper with his bride and then take her straight out onto the battlefield?

The angel tells John to write, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb” (verse 9).

We’re reading about a celebration of the invitation to the wedding supper, not the wedding supper itself. Again, if John was living through these events in real-time, it seems he would surely have described or at least mentioned the supper, if it had already been held, particularly as Revelation is written “For the churches” (Revelation 22:16). If Jesus Christ was seeking to reassure and inform the Church of his grand plan, why is there no description of the marriage supper?

Indeed, had the supper happened during the events of the tribulation, and since John was supposedly “raptured” at its commencement, he should have been a vital part of it. He would surely say something like, “And behold, I saw the wedding supper of the Lamb, and feasted with my fellow disciples”. Instead, though the bride has “made herself ready” in chapter 19, she’s nowhere to be seen, and her groom is on the way out the door to slaughter his enemies and gather his elect!

ARE THE ELECT NOT INVITED?

Context is always vitally important in interpretation of scripture. The context here in chapter 19 and the next chapter is that the great whore has been destroyed, the wedding supper of the Lamb “has come”, and the Lamb himself, Jesus Christ, is about to turn roaring lion and burst forth onto the world in the most spectacular event of the ages. He’s going to defeat his enemies, then he’s going to send angels to gather his elect from the four winds.

This gathering of the elect is described in the Olivet Discourse as happening upon the glorious, visible return of Jesus. Is it possible that Jesus Christ would hold that wedding supper without inviting his elect- those who had been bravely and faithfully opposing the Antichrist and refusing his mark, upholding the testimony of Jesus, and gaining great victory over the beast, the false prophet and the world? Would Jesus Christ really hold that wedding supper without them? I personally very much doubt it. We’re told that those who are invited are blessed (19:9). Are the elect-those who have withstood Antichrist, not blessed? Could they not be at least a part of his Church? They are, after all “his” elect (Matthew 24:31). And remember that once the groom in the parable of the ten virgins had taken his bride, the door was shut and no-one else was allowed to the wedding: there was only one collection of the bride by the groom-not two.

Could it be that the “elect” are Christ’s bride? Could it be that the gathering of his elect which we read about in the Olivet Discourse is the point at which the resurrection takes place and believers still living are gathered, as Paul shared in his first letter to the Thessalonians?

The entire issue of the bride thickens in chapter 21 of Revelation: it isn’t quite so straightforward as we think it is before we dive into the subject. Paul spoke of the marriage between a man and a woman as representing the relationship between Christ and the Church (Ephesians chapter 5). He called the relationship a “mystery”, just as he called the rapture a mystery. We’ve seen how, in Revelation chapter 19 the “bride” has made herself ready for marriage, but when we get to chapter 21 we’re confronted with something of a challenge to our view of the bride, and also to the timing of that wedding.

It is after the new heavens and new earth appear at the start of chapter 21 that we find another mention of a bride. Here the bride is a city, or is it actually the Church metaphorically described as a city: the New Jerusalem? This is a difficult passage, because we evangelicals think of the New Jerusalem as a literal city which we will live in. But when an angel tells John that he will show him “the bride, the wife of the Lamb”, he shows him not a multitude of people, but a seemingly literal, physical city, with gates, walls, a river, trees, and all kinds of decorations. But how can the bride of Christ, the Church, made up of millions of believers, be seen as a literal city? Are both somehow synonymous, so that the Church along with the city are the bride? Or is there perhaps no literal city at all? It seems unlikely that there will be no cities in God’s creation for eternity: why could there not be a literal New Jerusalem? And if we look further into the chapter we see more reference to apparently literal, physical objects and actions. For example, “…its gates will never be shut” (verse 25). How can this be describing people?

It seems that this appearance of the New Jerusalem, which is described as being both “like” a bride (21:2) and as the bride herself (22:9) must be a thousand years after the glorious return of Jesus to the earth and after his thousand year reign (21:1-2). Each is seen by John to descend out of heaven at this time. Perhaps the bride has been based in heaven for the millennium but is transferred to the new earth after it. This is obviously a subject for debate, research and prayer: it is for now its own “mystery” which will only become clear when the time is right.

When does the bride make her first actual appearance, rather than being just spoken about? Is it in Revelation chapter 4, when John arrives in heaven to see the events of the tribulation? No. Is it in chapter 19, before the conquering, vengeful Christ rides out of heaven? No, it’s in chapter 21. It’s after Antichrist and the false prophet are thrown into the Lake of Fire (19:19-20); after those beheaded in the tribulation are raised (20:4); after the first resurrection (20:5) and after our introduction to the thousand year reign (20:6-10).

It’s true that the bride does indeed come out of heaven, but only just in time for the beginning of eternity after the millennium. In verse 2 of chapter 21 the city-the bride- appears, and she has been “prepared”:

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband”.

Remember that the bride of chapter 19 was also “prepared”, but she made no appearance at that point:

…his bride has made herself ready” (19:7).

It’s only when the New Jerusalem appears, after the millennium, that we’re told God is now living with his people:

Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them” (21:3).

RAPTURE 15(a): THE BRIDE

The “wedding supper of the Lamb”, announced in Revelation chapter 19, is believed to be a love-feast involving Jesus Christ and his bride, the raptured Church.  The rapture of the Church is commonly considered to be the calling of Christ’s bride. To this point, I agree. However, pre-tribulation rapture believers are convinced this love feast will occur in heaven while the tribulation is playing out on the earth. They say that an early rapture mirrors betrothal rites and ceremonies in ancient Jewish culture. Are these beliefs really supported in Scripture?

Welcome to the latest excerpt from my book* This subject, the Bride of Christ, as it relates to the rapture, is in two parts. The second part (b) will probably appear next week.

THE IMMINENT COMING

The concept of “imminence”, which I covered in an earlier post, is vital to the theory that Christ will call his bride into heaven before the tribulation. Proponents quote Jesus from the Olivet Discourse, when he said:

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36)

PT believers claim that this and other similar phrases are directly related to the ancient custom of the groom suddenly and unexpectedly showing up to claim his bride, and so support a pre-tribulation rapture. Instead, as I demonstrated when discussing imminence, the above quote and others like it were actually said for the benefit of the very people pre-tribulationists claim will be left behind to live through the tribulation.

TEN VIRGINS

One passage of scripture used to support the idea that ancient Jewish marriage rites prefigure a pre-tribulation rapture is found towards the end of the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 25:1-13). Here Jesus tells the well-known parable of ten virgins who were betrothed, and expecting the groom to come and take them in marriage. Five were ready for the groom when he came, but five were foolish and were not ready. The belief is that the “ready” virgins who went with the groom represent people who will be ready for the rapture before tribulation, and so are taken by Jesus Christ into heaven. The foolish five represent those not ready, and so are left behind.

Upon a reading of the whole passage, we can see that this parable doesn’t work for the pre-tribulation rapture model, because once the ready virgins were taken to the marriage feast, said Jesus, “…the door was shut” (verse 10). The door was not just shut for seven years, but shut permanently. The groom said to those left behind, now on the other side, “I do not know you” (verse 12). Here is a complete severance of those left behind by the groom: they were rejected forever.

In contrast, as demonstrated even in a certain series of successful books and movies based on a pre-tribulation rapture, Scripture says that there will be believers, or ”saints” on the earth during the tribulation, who will be resurrected if killed, or “gathered” by the angels when Christ returns to the earth:

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).

These saints clearly have not been rejected. Are these believers, who remain faithful to Jesus against the forces of evil, to be left out of the marriage supper? Are they not wedded to Christ? If not, how can they receive eternal life? Can they be saved and faithful followers of Jesus and yet not be a part of the bride of Christ?

This very final-sounding remark of the groom to the five virgins he leaves behind, “I do not know you” is reminiscent of the words of Jesus when he warned that those who don’t do his will are going to get a severe shock when they expect to enter the kingdom of heaven but can’t:

I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:22-23 ESV).

When the five virgins who were “ready” went with the groom to the wedding feast in Jesus’ parable, they were the last to go. Yet in the book of Revelation we find that the gospel is preached throughout the world even during the tribulation, and there will be many saints who “hold to the testimony of Jesus and obey his commandments”. The calling and gathering of believers in the day of the Lord will come when he sends out his angels to gather his elect, at the end of the tribulation. At the end of the virgins parable Jesus Christ again gives this warning:

Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).

If the five wise virgins going with the groom symbolize a pre-tribulation rapture, we Church-age and good rapture-candidate believers are presumably the “virgins” being told to be ready in this Olivet allegory. But the same warning to be ready was also given just after a description of Christ’s glorious return in power and glory, so that about that very day-the day of Christ’s physical appearing for all the world to see,  Jesus said:

But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son…” (Matthew 24:36).

The warning to be ready for the groom in the virgin parable matches the warning to be ready for the glorious, visible return of Christ.

Jesus continued from the above warning to be ready for his coming, reminding his disciples of the people who died in the Flood of Noah’s time (Matthew 24:37-39). He said:

Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (verse 42).

The Church is, indeed, the bride of Christ. But the teaching that Christ will take his bride home before the tribulation is unfounded. Even if we accept the claim that ancient Jewish marriage customs do foreshadow Christ’s coming for his Church, there’s still no Biblical basis to demand that this calling must be before the tribulation begins, unless we use circular reasoning. It’s the belief that tribulation events will be clearly seen from the start of a seven year period, which then claims that the groom will appear without warning. But as we’ve seen, Jesus even warned those around on the earth during the tribulation that he will come without warning.

REPLACEMENT THEOLOGY?

Remember that after five wise virgins were called by the groom to the marriage feast in Jesus’ parable, the door was shut and nobody else was allowed in to the wedding. Indeed, the groom, representing Christ, said to those outside, “I do not know you” (Matthew 25:12 ESV). If the Olivet Discourse is mainly for Jews, and the marriage rites are those for Jewish wedding ceremonies, why is it that, according to pre-tribulation thinking, the wedding supper is excluding the “elect” gathered by angels, and seen by pre-tibulation teachers as the Jewish remnant? Isn’t this some sort of replacement theology?

We aren’t left without other scripture to guide us on the subject of the wedding and wedding feast. Earlier in Matthew’s gospel we read a lengthy section in which Jesus addressed the chief priests and elders who hated him (Matthew 21:23). This discussion leads to the Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:1-14).The king, snubbed by those representing unbelieving Jews, proceeds to invites any who will come. Those who respond represent, of course, Gentiles. But there are also Jewish believers, which must include at the very least Christ’s original eleven, and all his followers of the first century including Paul: all who will “come”. There’s no separate arrangement for different groups of guests: there is one wedding for all.

Why is it that the “bride” of Christ in Revelation is generally considered to be the Gentile Church, but the Jewish remnant is not, when Jews were the first to be invited to the wedding? Why would we think that the Church would be present at Christ’s wedding but not the remnant, nor the “elect” who are gathered at the second coming of Christ?

As I wrote in chapter five of my book, pre-tribulation teachers have to say that most of the content of the Olivet Discourse is intended for a Jewish believing remnant who will be around during the tribulation while the Church is in heaven, because obviously those who would see the events of the tribulation which Jesus was describing could not have been taken in a pre-tribulation rapture. Yet it was during that same discourse and to those same believers that Jesus said the day and hour, while clearly coming, would be unknown:

Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door” (Matthew 24:33).

This “right at the door” phrase is evocative of the marriage custom, claimed by pre-tribulationists, of the groom coming to the door of the bride to take her with him, and it’s placed immediately before the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ to the whole world. The observers Jesus is addressing would have to first see “all these things” (verse 33). “These things” are the very things which pre-tribulationists tell us we in the Church cannot see.

Then Jesus said:

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36) and;

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matthew 24:42).

*ALL LEFT BEHIND:THE CASE AGAINST THE PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE, by Nicholas Fisher, available on Amazon.