The Rapture Of The Saints
Elder O. B. Mink
Now In Glory
“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
In eschatology, I doubt if there is a more controversial subject than the rapture of the saints. In the closing days of this age we find every branch of theology rife with controversy. So much so, that if we refused to preach on a subject because it was controversial, there would be nothing left to preach. I do not have any respect for a man who does not have the courage to stick with his convictions. His convictions may cost him cherished friendships and place him in the despised minority, but there is more honor in being wrong and courageously defending your views, than being right and not have the backbone to defend your convictions.
I do not consider myself a polemicist, nor do I thrive on disputes, and I have no desire to antagonize those with whom I differ. On the other hand, it would be shamefully dishonest for a person not to present his convictions as forcibly as he knows how to present them. It is my prayer that what I write on this subject will be “in season” with you, but if you consider it to be “out of season”, pray that I might be enlightened by the Spirit of truth. It is with a desire to glorify God that I write on this subject, and the closest earthly relationship is to be set aside, if necessary, to achieve this vitally important objective.
THE FIRST COMING OF CHRIST
I cannot think of but one subject more important, or more pertinent to our present time than the second coming of Christ, and that is Christ’s first coming to earth to die as the sacrifice for the sins of His people. Christ’s first coming was heralded by almost every writer in the Old Testament. Isaiah’s prophecy of Christ’s first coming is so detailed it seems to be contemporary with the New Testament record. Some 750 years before the first coming of Christ to earth, Isaiah wrote “… Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). And while Christ was yet in the virgin womb of Mary an angel quotes the words of Isaiah to Joseph, the man to whom Mary was espoused. “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matthew 1:22, 23). Also in Isaiah’s prophecy we read of Christ, “He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter.” No honest student of God’s word will deny these words to be a direct reference to the vicarious death of Christ, and with this thought in mind, John the Baptist cried out, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)
The Apostle John speaks of Christ’s first coming, saying, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Paul speaks of Christ’s incarnation and first advent in very plain language, “When the fullness of the time was come God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law” (Galatians 4:4). Paul, in this text, refers to Genesis 3:15, wherein God prophetically speaks of Christ’s first coming as the seed of the woman to have His heel bruised at Calvary.
We summon from the Old Testament library thousands of prophecies and types which attest to the first coming of Christ, and could, from the New Testament cite their perfect and minute fulfillment. However, we will forego that great delight at this time, and turn our eyes to the future wherein we expect any day to see the second coming of our Lord in the air.
MEETING THE LORD IN THE AIR
A great measure of harmony prevails between the pre-trib and post-trib views as to meeting Christ in the air. Both schools agree there is an actual gathering of the saints unto Christ in the air, and that the saints will return to earth with Him. The designations, pre-trib and post-trib bespeaks the difference between them regarding the meeting of Christ in the air, and it is doubtful that the difference in their views will be erased this side of meeting Christ in the air. However, it is my firm belief that our text (I Thessalonians 4:13-18) teaches a pre-tribulational appearance of Christ in the air, and a gathering of the saints of the previous ages and the present age unto Him. The phrase in our text which says, “The dead in Christ shall rise first” spans the ages, reaching back to Adam and forward to the newest grave of God’s elect prior to that glorious appearing of the Lord in the air. Yea, some graves will remain virgin, having never received their tribute due to the intervening of Christ in the air. “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up (raptured)together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (I Thessalonians 4:17-1 8).
Some A-mil theorist will say, “The word ‘rapture’ is not in the Bible, and since it is not a Bible term, it should not be given the prominence that millennialism places on it.” This is unsound reasoning, for I am confident they would not apply the same rule to the words trinity, depravity, supernatural, attribute, etc. simply because they are not found in the English translation of the Bible.
The Greek word used in our text (vs. 17) for “caught up” is harpazo. This Greek verb has various meanings, such as, snatch away; carry off; catch away; to seize, etc. As used by Paul in our text, it conveys the idea of a joyous catching away. Our English word “rapt”, as defined by Webster, means to seize; lift up and carry away; transported with emotion. The word, “rapture” expresses the same meaning with the emphasis on being ecstatically and joyously lifted up. Thus it is, the two terms harpazo (Greek) and rapture (English) are virtually identical in meaning and when used in connection with meeting the Lord in the air, call for the same effect or function.
In view of the above stated facts, it is biblically correct to refer to the coming of Christ in the air, and the uniting of the saints with Him in that glorious appearing as the rapture. I have heard girls on a number of occasions, when speaking of their sweethearts say, “He swept me right off of my feet.” This is but a figure of speech, but it is a figure which never looses any of its meaning in dialogue, and it is invariably a reference to ecstatic emotion. While such experience of sweethearts is rapturous, it in no wise comes close to what the Bride of Christ will experience when she is literally swept off her feet to meet her Beloved and long awaited for Groom in the air.
THE TWO PHASES OF CHRIST’S SECOND COMING
The two phases or appearings of Christ in the second coming are theologically referred to as the “rapture” and the “revelation.” First in order is the rapture, when only the redeemed up to that point in time shall see Him and meet Him in the air. Second, is the revelation, when every eye shall see Him: “Behold He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen” (Revelation 1:7). In the rapture Christ comes for His people, while in the revelation He comes with His people. In the rapture, the saints are taken from earth to the judgment seat of Christ in heaven. In the revelation, the saints come with Christ from heaven to judge the earth (Romans 14:12; I Corinthians 6:2;Jude 14, 15). In the rapture, Christ comes to remove sin from the redeemed bodies of His people (I Corinthians 15:51-58; Philippians 3:20, 21). In the revelation, Christ comes to destroy the unredeemed bodies of His enemies (I Thessalonians 1:7-9; Matthew 25:46). In the rapture, Christ receives His people in the air (I Thessalonians 4:17). In the revelation, His people receive Him on the earth (Zechariah 12:10; Revelation 1:7). In the rapture, Christ takes His Bride to His Father’s house, to the Jerusalem which is above (John 14:2;Galatians 4:26). In the revelation, Christ brings His Bride to the Jerusalem on earth, and to His own house (Zechariah 1:16, 17; Matthew 19:28; Hebrews 3:6).
The rapture is “the day of Christ”, the revelation is “the day of the Lord.” In our study of end-age events, the Biblical distinction between these two days needs to be maintained. To do so will go a long way toward enhancing our ability in keeping the chronology of the consummation of future ages in their proper order. The “day of Christ” begins at the rapture, and has to do with the marriage of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7, 8), the marriage supper, and the mercy or reward seat of Christ (I Corinthians 1:8; 3:13;5:5; II Corinthians 1:14; Philippians 1:6, 10; 2:16; II Thessalonians 2:2), and every reference has to do with His glorious appearing in the rapture.
Paul’s chief purpose in writing his second epistle to the Thessalonians was to remind them of the distinction between the “day of Christ” and the “Day of the Lord.” A short while after writing his first letter to the church at Thessalonica he learned that a forged letter bearing his name had been sent to them (II Thessalonians 2:2). Because of their faith they were suffering bitter persecution (I Thessalonians 1:6; II Thessalonians 3:12), and the forged letter led some of them to believe they were going through the great tribulation, or that the great and terrible “day of the Lord” had begun. To show that the letter was a forgery, that they had been misinformed by it, and to remove the detriment from their faith which had been created by the letter, Paul wrote his second letter to them giving a chronology of the events leading up to the millennium. First or preceding the “day of Christ” there must be a great falling away from the faith. Then the coming of Christ in the rapture for His people, and following the rapture will come the revelation and exaltation of the “man of sin” or he that “maketh desolate”. Then comes the Invasion of Israel by the armies of the antichrist, which precipitates the coming of the Lord with His people in awful judgment (II Thessalonians 1:1-12).
The “day of the Lord” has to do with the judgments of the great tribulation; the revelation of Christ at Armageddon; the millennial reign of Christ; the purging of sin from the universe by fire; the bringing in of new heavens and a new earth; and the eternal, uninterrupted reign of righteousness (Isaiah 2:12;Joel 1:15; Zephaniah 1:7; Malachi 4:5; I Thessalonians 5:2, 3; II Peter 3:10; Revelation 19). In Paul’s first Thessalonian epistle he stressed the fact that the “day of Christ” was imminent. In his second letter to them he emphasized that the “day of the Lord” would come suddenly, but not necessarily immediately (II Thessalonians 5:1-3).
The contrast between the two phases of Christ’s second coming could be further highlighted, but I trust what has been said thus far is sufficient to make the distinction clear.
THE RAPTURE HOPE BEGETS PURITY OF LIFE
“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
“Looking” is a verb which denotes activity born of expectancy. A man’s spiritual temperature can usually be ascertained by the “hope” thermometer. Some precious saints, who, at one time, were burning with expectancy of the Lord’s imminent appearing in the air, have dropped in temperature to lukewarm or cold, and apathetically ask, “Where is the promise of His coming?” Salvation from sin puts one on the right track, but even when you are on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there. So it is, the blessed hope makes Jesus more than a destination in some far of misty heaven. It serves to form Christ in the believer, and the thought of an any-day accounting of their stewardship before the Bema seat causes them to abound more and more in their labour of love for the Lord (I Thessalonians 4:1).
The prospect of Christ’s appearing at any moment is a tremendous help in the proper and daily ordering of the believer’s spiritual house. Paul looked for and loved the appearing of the Lord (II Timothy 4:8), and being motivated by this loving expectancy, his time and labour was consumed in preparation of His coming. The saints’ chief occupation in this life should be a Rapture Preparedness Program. Nothing should take priority over it, and nothing should deter him from it. The Lord’s message to His servants is, “Occupy till I come” (Luke 19:13). “And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure” (I John 3:3).
A well grounded hope in the imminent appearing of Christ in glory will serve to crucify sloth. It will cause the believer to abandon all creature security, and will stir him up to use the greatest care and diligence in the exercise of his profession.
Purity of life is prosperity in the sight of God, and in the eternal economy is the most valuable stock a saint can own. A person may own the combined millions of the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Rothschilds, etc., and yet be destitute of that hope which genders purity of life. On the other hand, a person may be as impoverished as Paul, who suffered the loss of all temporal riches that he may look with a steadfast hope to the coming of Christ, (Philippians 3:8, 20, 21), and yet, being purified by anticipating momentarily the Lord’s return, lay up for himself treasures in heaven that surpass the wealth of this world. This hope makes the Lord’s demands a delight, it helps to paralyze the believer’s sinful nature. It stimulates missionary activity, and causes the Bride of Christ to veil herself with humility as she, moment by moment, awaits the embrace of her heavenly Isaac. The comfort realized from this hope is not mere euphoria, but genuine, and causes the believer to watch, as well as wait for his Lord from Heaven. “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thessalonians 5:23). “UNTO, in the Greek language, is “en” and it means “in”.
THE THESSALONIAN QUESTION
The question in the Thessalonian church was no doubt as to the imminence of the rapture, but the question with them was, “Will our beloved brothers and sisters who have gone to the grave miss the rapture?” Apart from hope in an any-moment rapture, this question would be senseless, and it bears out the fact that Paul, in his brief visit with them had taught them to expect the rapture any day. Although Paul was only with the Thessalonians three or four weeks (Acts 17:2), he taught them much truth. However, the brevity of his stay necessitated omission of some doctrinal details. One of the things concerning the rapture which needed further elucidation was: “How would the rapture affect those who had gone to sleep in Christ? Would they be caught up with the living saints, or would they be left in the grave?” Paul’s customary practice was to revisit the churches, or send someone to further establish them in the faith. Thus it was Paul sent Timothy from Athens to the Thessalonians to continue the work of perfecting the church in truth (I Thessalonians 3:1, 2). Timothy spends some time with the Thessalonians, and then rejoins Paul at Corinth (Acts 18:5, I Thessalonians 3:6-8).
Paul’s spirit was buoyed up at the good report which Timothy brought him concerning the spiritual health of the Thessalonian church. However, there were some in the church which held erroneous views concerning the rapture. Some were in deep sorrow concerning those who had died since Paul took leave of them, thinking that they would be left in the grave at the glorious appearing of the Lord in the rapture, and there were others in the church so overwhelmed by the thought of the momentary coming of the Lord that they had ceased to work (I Thessalonians 4:11-13). So, Paul makes haste and gets his first epistle off to them to correct these errors, telling them that their loved ones which had quit this walk of life were not dead in the pagan sense from which they were recently called out of was, “Hopes are among the living. The dead are without hope” (Theocrltlus, a Greek philosopher and poet). The philosophy of the pagan world was, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” The great majority of people in the world today are without God and without hope beyond this life. Having reduced the number of their gods, and changing the names of those left, they do not consider themselves pagans, but their practice and philosophy betrays them, and they are not more than modern pagans in the sight of God. As they are, so were all at one time. We who have been made to differ, and have, by the grace of God, been made partakers of that hope which looks heavenward, should warn those who have hope in this life, only, that, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
PAUL’S ANSWER TO THE GRIEVING THESSALONIANS
The hearts of the Thessalonian saints were weighted down with doubt as to having the company of their deceased loved ones in the rapture. Their sorrow was heavy, and infinitely increased with each new grave. While their sorrow and heaviness of heart was due to ignorance on their part, yet, Paul did not blame or criticize them, but with a loving and tender hand wrote to them saying, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that you sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent (precede or go before) them which are asleep (I Thessalonians 4:13-15). Paraphrasing Paul’s words, he says: “Brethren, there is absolutely no basis for your worry and grief. Put far from your mind the thought that those who sleep in Jesus rise not at the rapture, for not only are they to be raised at the rapture, but they are to be raised before we are translated.” Hence, there was no ground for their uneasiness concerning those who had fallen asleep in Christ, for their bodies were resting in the grave, while their souls were alive in the presence of Christ. Not once did Paul dogmatically state that he would be alive at the “Parousia” of Christ. Nevertheless, in the plural pronoun “we” in verse 15 of I Thessalonians four, he included himself and makes it clear that he expected to be alive when the Lord came in the rapture. He wrote to the church at Rome and to the church at Corinth in the same vein, manifesting the same hope, wherein he included himself in that blessed company who would be alive and waiting for the glorification of the body (Romans 8:22, 23). To the church at Corinth he writes, “Behold I shew 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” (I Corinthians 15:51, 52). Again he says to them: “For in this (tabernacle, tent, body) we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house from heaven” (II Corinthians 5:2). While Paul was not absolutely certain that his body would miss the grave, he left no room for honest questions concerning what he believed about the believer’s undying soul. He says: “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (II Corinthians 5:8). These words should forever shut the mouth of those who say, “Everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one is willing to die in order to get there.”
Paul tells the depressed Thessalonians, your “dead in Christ shall rise” at the rapture, and to make their joy more full, he says, “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
A FURTHER WORD OF COMFORT FOR CHRISTIANS
“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him” (I Thessalonians 4:14).
Not only did Paul tell the Thessalonians that their loved ones whose bodies were in the grave would be raised and raptured, but he used the word “sleep” to describe the motionless state of their bodies. In the pagan world death carried with it an awesome finality. All hope vanished with the closing of the grave, or faded with the smoke of cremation. Paul speaks of the body in its pre-rapture and wakened state as the home of the soul, saying, “...Whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord” (II Corinthians 5:6). The Bible never uses the word “sleep” in reference to the soul. The soul never sleeps, and speaking of the soul, Paul says, “… To be absent from the body (is) to be present with the Lord” (II Corinthians 5:8). The cults which teach “soul sleep” need to be awakened out of their satanically induced slumber before they, like the rich man, (Luke 16) learn by unquestionable experience that the soul never sleeps. It is the body of the believer Paul refers to when he says, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope” (I Thessalonians 4:13). The Greek word for “sleep” in this text is “koimamonai” and is used elsewhere in Scripture to speak of natural sleep (Matthew 28:13; Luke 22:45; Acts 12:6; etc.).
While the term “sleep” is used by Paul in a metaphorical sense in writing to the Thessalonians (I Thessalonians 4:13-15), the meaning he is endeavoring to convey by its use is glaringly apparent to the spiritual mind. A sleeping body is as close, or as perfect a picture of the death state of a body as can possibly be and it is in this precise sense Paul uses the term “sleep.” Sleep is temporal, and so is the death state of the believer’s body. Christ, speaking of the dead and buried body of Lazarus, said: “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep” (John 11:11). Daniel describes the physically dead, saying: “Them that sleep in the dust of the earth” (Daniel 12:2). It is absurd to apply such language to the soul, for the soul is immaterial, eternally awake, never needs sleep and takes leave of its decaying tenement when the body falls asleep in death. It is based on this axiom that Paul says: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain ... for I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better” (Philippians 1:21, 23).
As baptism is the ordinance used to picture the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, a sleeping body is used uniformly throughout Scripture to depict the death of the believer’s body. There is a great similarity of sleep and physical death. Alarm clocks attest to the fact that sleep is temporary, and the resurrection of Christ proves that the sleeping death of the believer’s body is temporary. “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept” (I Corinthians 15:20). Like the word “sleep” the “resurrection,” always refers to the body. A soul cannot be buried, as a body is buried, and therefore, the term “resurrection” is inapplicable to the soul. It was to the body God said: “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19). The body, at death, lies down under the blanket of earth, and the soul of the believer goes upward to God Who gave it (Ecclesiastes 3:21, 12:7).
The mightiest and most powerful dust this earth contains comes from the dissolved bodies of the Lord’s redeemed, but the soul cannot be broken up into parts for it is not made up of atoms and molecules, but of will, emotion, and intellect, all of which survive the grave. Thus, it is, we see by word picture, Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom being comforted, while his body is decomposing in the earth. On the other hand, we see the rich man in hell exercising his soulish faculties, while his body waits in the dust of the earth for the resurrection of the damned (Luke 16). The body consisting of matter, experiences, in death, a dissolution of organic forms. But matter is never annihilated, and the body of the believer not only exists after organic dissolution, but its mortality takes on a nature in resurrection that makes the power of death that once reigned over it, eternally null and void. It is this state of body the Psalmist anticipates when he says: “I shall be satisfied, when I awake with Thy likeness” (Psalm17:15).
The Greek word, translated “sleep” (I Thessalonians 4:13, 14, 15) is a derivative of the word “keimai” and it means, to “lie down,” and it is the body that lies down, never the soul. The Greek word for resurrection in the New Testament is “anastasis” and it means “up”. It is the bodies of believers that shall come “up” out of their graves at the rapture to be reunited with their indivisible and never dying souls. Then, with the living saints whose bodies, being changed from corruptible to celestial, shall be ecstatically lifted up to meeting the Lord in the air. The resurrected and glorified saints looking back on their pilfered graves will say: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (I Corinthians 15:55).
Paul, reflecting on his words of assurance to the Thessalonians concerning the resurrection and rapture, says: “Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (I Thessalonians 4:18).
Historically, we are 2,000 years this side of Christ’s first coming. Futuristically, I believe Christ may, any day, stand up and step out into earth’s atmosphere, where He will embrace His Bride, and sound Heaven’s welcome to all God’s elect with her. “Even so, come, Lord, Jesus.”
(Sovereign Grace Advocate - February, 1979)
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