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A Revelation Special Feature: 'the Rapture of the Church'

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Posted on CCPC's website 2022

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     This topic is perhaps the most fractious one will encounter that involves the faithful under the general umbrella of the topics encountered going through Revelation.
     In short, and what most of those who subscribe to the idea would agree with is: "the rapture" is when Christ removes His Church from Earth. And the disagreements begin before we even finish the sentence, because not everybody can even agree with what 'His Church' is, let alone what that “r” word has to do with it. But, we can work from that thumbnail sketch of the topic.
     In doing so we'll hit the major schools of thought, and where they originated, which means we'll spend some time in England and Ireland with an Anglican priest in the early to mid-1800s. Then we'll do what some of those that espouse one or the other of the sometimes confusing, and mutually exclusive, ideas seem to have forgotten to do: go back and see what the original terms and context mean in the few Biblical passages that discuss it. And, of course, we'll look into the origin and meaning of the word "rapture". And then we'll make an attempt to draw some sort of conclusion that makes sense.
     Along the way there will be the usual assortment of tangents and obscure references and maybe even a quote or three, like:

"There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more."
- Lord Byron (1788 - 1824)

     Perhaps we'll use the Byron quote to begin with a quick look at the several different, but somewhat related, meanings assigned to the English word "rapture".
     In his rather poetic way, Byron is using the term to mean a sense of profound contentment and serenity. Not 'happiness' per se, but that is part of it, more leaning toward a detached ecstasy. That latter is also in play when a blue water diving instructor warns his scuba class about 'the rapture of the deep'. That one, also known by the less poetic name "nitrogen narcosis", can kill. That is when excess nitrogen builds up in the blood, causing neurological issues such as disorientation and confusion, and even a sense of euphoria, that, when deep underwater, can be fatal in short order a some divers suffering from it have evidently forgotten where they were and removed their masks and regulators. There's a link below to a tragic example.
     Another use of the word involves the elation of a cheering crowd at a sporting event when the home team does something that wins the game.
     We're finally at the final definition we're going to look at today. And that is the one attached to the word by that Anglican priest we mentioned. It is usually stated as "the Rapture" and expressly refers to the statements by Paul the Apostle in First Thessalonians 4 and towards the end of First Corinthians 15 in reference to when Christ shall return in glory to claim the Believers, as He said as stated in the second half of Matthew 24.
     The Greek of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 uses the verb form “harpagesometha”, which means "be caught up / taken away". The root word is “harpazo”, which means something along the lines of “to snatch away”, which is: to steal quickly. Enter the 'thief in the night' analogy of your choice here. The same word is used in Acts 8: 39, 2 Corinthians 12, and Revelation 12.
     It is worth mentioning that the Latin Bibles used the word “raptura / rapiemur” for the Greek in that passage. This Latin term means exactly the same thing, and even adds “kidnapping” to the flavor of the word. And is the source for the English word “rapture”, thusly rendering the argument that the word is NOT used in the Bible meaningless.

     Yes. Scripture says it will happen, it will happen quickly, and it won't be a secret.
     However, the verses are also lacking a lot of the specific information the doctrine as espoused by various writers and speakers and even denominational colleges proclaim (see link below to Faith Baptist Bible College page, other takes on it are also included). We'll look at a handful of them before we wrap this up.

     As with most Biblical themes, humans have taken a fairly straightforward idea, that “it is God's event, it will happen on His schedule, and we'll find out about it then”, and run with it. To the point of taking ideas from other End of the world concepts from historical sources and, well, painting classic images on church walls from them, including what may be the most famous of all on the wall of the Sistine Chapel that does have some Biblical points to it, and a lot of Michelangelo's artistic interpretation of Catholic, and a few decidedly pagan, ideas.
     Maybe sticking strictly to Scripture doesn't make for good art when you're a painter working on a commission from the Pope.

     But. The lack of specific information has never stopped people from trying to interpret the Divine Plan, and it shan't stop us now as we look at where these ideas came from.
     Back to that priest from 'across the pond', John Nelson Darby (1800 - 1882).

     If you look through certain materials, some which are linked below, the colorful term "heresy" is applied to both the gentleman and his teachings. But we'll come back to that.
     Other 'dispensationalist' terms are also applied to his ideas and other concepts based on the same set of scriptures. Some of those include: pre-tribulation premillennialism, midtribulationalism, postmillennialism, amillennialism pretribulationism, and so on.
     The words all mean something, and they are all talking about the same basic subjects. We'll boil it down to the good stuff: When will.....
    (Don't have a spasm, we're listing them in something like alphabetical order.)
     ... the Dead in Christ be resurrected to be with the Lord? And while you're at it, everybody else?
     ... the Final Judgment with the “Great White Throne” occur?
     ... the Great Tribulation: A. begin. B. end?
     ... the Living believers in the Church taken to be with Christ (the Second Coming)?
     ... the Rule of Christ (and friends) on Earth: A. begin. B. end?

     Those are the big ones, and there are a few finer points, such as what happens during the break in the action between the individual trumpets and bowls, and the total elapsed time from the 'beginning of the end' to the 'end of the end', and so on.
     But the main point of contention is whether or not the Living members of the Church will have to endure the Great Tribulation as mentioned in various prophecies. And, really, that's pretty much the only question that matters.

Time out to look at that “T” word:
     In Revelation 2, John uses the term “thlipsin” which can be translated as persecution / distress / pressure or 'tribulation' several times. The same general word is used elsewhere in the book, such as in chapter 7 where the modifier “megales” (great) is used to indicate something besides just the general, run of the mill troubles that we all have.
     The Greek root word that is translated as 'tribulation' shows up in several places in the New Testament, and the equivalent in Hebrew is seen in Psalms 13 in its milder form and in Daniel 9 and 12. In Deuteronomy 4: 30, the word “bassar” comes into English as both “severe distress” and “tribulation”. There is similar usage in Lamentations 3: 5.
     Christ refers to the bad side of the end times with this word in Matthew 13 and 24 and John 16, this is what we call the Great Tribulation. Most scholars see at least pieces of this time in Daniel's visions, as well as in other Apocalyptic prophecies.
End of time out

     Now we're going to look at when the living members of the earthly church will “exit stage left”.
     If you consider the various verses, such as the one in First Thessalonians, there is no time table for the “Day of the Lord”. In Matthew 24 and 25 Jesus says the “days be shortened” or nobody would be left alive during the “abomination of desolation” (from Daniel) and the Tribulation, THEN the Son of Man appears in the sky, and takes the Elect home. THEN later you have what is referred to as the “Great White Throne of Judgment”.
     There is no indication from that text that there is a significant period of time between the Day and the Judgment, and that there isn't. The only thing we do know is the faithful being 'changed' in an “atomo” (moment), and in an “rhipe ophthalmou” (quick jerk of an eye (blink))”.
     But, then again, the scale of time in these prophecies is from GOD, and to HIM what we experience and perceive as TIME is, essentially, Meaningless. So what would that make our outline of a timetable for what God does?
     OK, take a breath, then we're going to hit the central idea head on.

     We'll pause for a second in chapter six and look under the altar when the Lamb opens the fifth seal. Those martyrs are told that they need to wait a little while until their brethren are slain as they were. Which means that their are those who are faithful to GOD on Earth at this time. Now skip along to chapter 13 where a monster with a bad attitude comes out of the sea. The first thing he does is boast and brag about himself and to blaspheme God and all things His. THEN, check out verse 7. That means there are still those faithful to GOD at the time.
     There are those who will say that those are believers who converted during the time of the seals and trumpets and so on, through the testimony of the “two witnesses” for instance. Maybe. But still, there would have to be a significant number of believers to warrant that special attention and statement from John in verses 10 and 15. And we have another clue in 14: 13.
     The point being that there Will be Members of the Church on Earth during, at least part of, the Tribulation.

     In verse four of Chapter 20 of the book we're looking at for this study, The Apocalypse, the martyred faithful reign with Christ for a thousand years, which is AFTER all the trumpets and bowls and all the rest of it. Then in verse five, the “loipoi ton nekron” (rest of the dead), evidently those who died before the party discussed in Revelation began, were brought up in the “anastasis he prote ” (Resurrection the First or Principal (most important)). Just a bit further along is when the sea and 'death' and so on give up their dead (these would be the non-believers), who all stand before God.

     Verse four is apparently the source of the “millennium” that John Nelson Darby is talking about. However, the 'thousand year' period of verse six is a different epoch. During which we have the final act of the reality show of Gog and Magog.
     So.... Revelation Tally: we have martyred souls who appear without being resurrected, at least two Millenniums, a couple of different resurrections, the Devil is out running around, there's another round with the Bottomless Pit, and so on. Yeah, OK, we're good. Moving on....

     Which means that the events outlined in Revelation cover a period of time, and a range of incidents and larger events that are beyond Human measurement or comprehension. Such as our idea that the effect, or the outcome, of a given event must occur AFTER the event. You have Cause then Effect. But if TIME on God's side of the equation is meaningless, HE could dictate that the Effect happen BEFORE the Cause. And who are we to argue the point?

     Now, does all this shake out against God's timeline and when the members of the Living Church will 'move on up'?

     As with most of what we've seen in our study of Revelation: We Don't Know.
     We'll say it again: It is GOD'S timeline, and HIS playbook, and He is the only One that has any idea how it will all play out.
     And there is no point to our trying to doing this:

"Stop telling God what to do."
- Niels Bohr (see below)

     Part of the problem with Darby's concept of the events as related in the scriptures we cited could be summarized in the Bohr quote. Darby and his friends in the Plymouth Brethren spent almost as much time developing and putting wheels on their objections to Roman Catholicism, his native Anglican church, and other 'denominations', as they did their theology.
     One of the main issues everybody had with Darby, and the rest of the Brethren for that matter, was that while they repeatedly cite Matthew 22 : 29 to justify their criticism of the dogma from the major demonstrations, they fail to apply that same standard to their own statements, to the point of various factions of the Brethren 'denomination' soon breaking with the others and dis-associating themselves from them, and calling each other heretics.

     Of course, we shouldn't only pick on Darby. There are others proclaiming the same thing, some, like the infamous Harold Camping, were total fruit baskets who just have happened to have been given a radio microphone to proclaim their nonsense to all and sundry. And in the mean time, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on billboards and other advertising to make sure everybody knew about it. In total, Camping made 13 predictions, all of which were wrong. He died in 2013 after having been essentially excommunicated from his own radio ministry due to his obsession with these predictions.
     Others with this personality quirk include the likes of William Miller from the 1840s, and more recently Hal Lindsey and even Pat Robertson. The primary difference is that at least Lindsey learned his lesson early and quit picking dates for “the Rapture” to happen, instead he just keeps predicting it in the “next five years” whereas Miller picked 23 October 1844. Needless to say, he had a lot of explaining to do. Robertson predicted the end in 1982, and then again in 2007, and then simply degenerated into a chaotic stream of irrelevant babble that nobody took seriously until he finally hung his own mic up in the fall of 2021.
     We'll just mention that Jerry Falwell also took a turn with a hard date. If you have any questions about what he picked we'll close with a musical number that shared that part of the calendar as a hint.

“I was dreamin' when I wrote this
Forgive me if it goes astray,
But when I woke up this mornin'
Could've sworn it was judgment day
The sky was all purple, there were people runnin' everywhere
Tryin' to run from the destruction
You know I didn't even care-

Say say two thousand zero zero party over, oops, out of time
So tonight I'm gonna party like it's nineteen ninety-nine.”

- 1999, song by Prince, original single release 1982, Warner records. (See interview at Rolling Stone below.)

Selected References for this edition:

The Rapture of the Deep and: a deadly Florida underwater cave

A brief on John Nelson Darby

And Then: John Nelson Darby as the Heretic of the Week

Rapture, Premillennialism & Dispensationalism Refuted!

Warning: Opens as a PDF!
The Case for “MidTribulationalism”

And then: “Post.....”

A Tribulation study

It's a hoax?

A Methodist view

“Rather than trying to create our own truth from speculation, 'we do not know' is probably the best place to leave it.”

   In his scientific papers and lectures Albert Einstein used phrases like “The Lord is subtle but not malicious” and “God does not play dice”.
   One time after such a statement Niels Bohr (1885-1962. Won 1922 Nobel Prize for Physics) told him, "Einstein, stop telling God what to do."
More about Bohr at:

William Miller and the Millerites from the 1840s.

An article about Harold Camping and his predictions:
NYT article

Pat Robertson's sixty year career:

then, finally:
1999 an interview with Prince:

The study Index page.

NOTE: The Bible Study Lesson presented above is posted as a reference document to begin a conversation of the topic. And that's it. Please accept it at such.

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