The Hidden Doctrine Of The Rapture

A Bible Study by Jack Kelley

Over time I’ve received several questions along the line of the following one. “Why do you think that such an important occurrence as the rapture is spoken of so few times and why is it so “hidden” in scripture?”

It’s true the rapture is not mentioned very often, at least not directly. In fact, the Greek word from which we get the whole rapture idea appears only 13 times in the New Testament and even then it comes to us in a roundabout way. The Greek word is harpazo and means to catch up or take by force. In most English translations of 1 Thes.4:17 it’s rendered “caught up.” The root from which it comes is haireo which means “to take for oneself.” 1 Thes. 4:17 is the only place the word harpazo refers to the rapture of the Church.

On top of that, rapture is an English word that comes from the Latin translation of harpazo which is why you can’t find it in your Bible. You would have to read 1 Thes. 4:17 in Latin to see it there. (It appears as rapiemur.) Many people don’t realize that for the thousand years preceding the Reformation, the Latin Vulgate was the primary translation of the original Greek texts. It was the standard text longer than any other translation before or since.

Although the concept of the rapture appears throughout the Bible, it wasn’t until about 20 years after the cross that it was described in any detail. This is how Paul could say he was revealing a secret (Listen, I tell you a mystery) when he described it in 1 Cor. 15: 51-53. Together with 1 Thes. 4:15-17 it was the first clear teaching of the rapture in the history of mankind. Only with the benefit of Paul’s disclosure can you look back through the Bible and see the many hints of the rapture. (See Rapture References)

There was a good strategic reason to keep all this secret before the cross. Paul spoke of it in 1 Cor 2:7-8. Explaining that his message of wisdom was not taken from the wisdom of the world, he said,

No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

Remember, Jesus called Satan the prince of this world (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11). Paul thought of him as the god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4). And John said the whole world is under the control of the evil one (1 John 5:19). So Paul’s reference to rulers of this age is not to the High Priest in Jerusalem or Caesar in Rome. He was saying that had Satan and his lackeys understood the extent of the blessings God had in mind for the Church, they would have done everything possible to prevent the crucifixion.

God’s Secret Wisdom, Part 1

There are two facets to God’s Secret wisdom where the Church is concerned. And as you’ll see, both require absolute secrecy. The first is the manner in which the Church was brought into the world.

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:13-15)

A quarter of a century after becoming a believer, I still can not adequately describe my initial reaction to hearing these verses. I had been in church all my life and had never been told such a thing. The bill of indictment for all the sins of my life, past, present, and future, was canceled at the cross. This rendered null and void any claim Satan ever had or ever would have against me. At the cross, he thought he had won by defeating God’s only hope for the salvation of mankind. Instead, whoever chooses to do so can now receive a lifelong pardon for their sins that no one can ever revoke.

Let me explain here that this knowledge did not inspire me to go out and sin to my heart’s content without any fear of consequences. Nor does it do so in any other true believer. Those who base their opposition to eternal security on the assumption that only the fear of loss will make us behave are missing the point. Besides, while it was our behavior that caused our sin problem, it’s the Lord’s behavior that cured us. All that’s left for us is to believe and receive it.

No, what this did for me was to produce a knee-buckling realization that I could never be worthy of such a gift and created a determination in me to spend the rest of my life trying to live up to what I had already attained (Phil 3:20). In God’s eyes, I was now perfect (Hebr. 10:14), a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).  I had been adopted into His family (Gal 4:4-5) and guaranteed a place in His Kingdom (Ephes. 1:13-14). I wanted to make sure He didn’t regret doing all that.

This guarantee of salvation is based entirely on our belief that Colossians 2:13-15 is true. It was such a radical departure from what God’s enemies had come to expect of Him that they were caught totally off guard. Before the cross, forgiveness only covered past sins. As soon as a person sinned again after the Day of Atonement, he was right back in debt and Satan had a brand new claim to him. To set aside the penalty for his sins, innocent animals had to die in his place, but that didn’t free him. It only gave him a temporary stay of execution (Hebr. 10:3).

But when Satan saw the lifelong lists of our sins being nailed to the cross right before his eyes, and heard Jesus say “Paid in full!” (John 19:30) he knew that what he thought was going to be his final victory had become his ultimate defeat.

Although with 20-20 hindsight we can look back into the Old Testament and see hints of what God was going to do in the Church, no one before the cross saw this. Not the Jews, certainly not the Gentiles, not even Satan. And instead of a nice orderly transition from Law to Grace, the clock for the Age of Law abruptly stopped seven years short of its previously announced duration (Daniel 9:24-27). Religious ceremonies the Jews had viewed as mandatory suddenly became meaningless. A culture steeped in religious law and practice was made obsolete, and would soon be dispersed. For the first and only time in history, the gates of heaven had been flung open to whosoever would enter, conditioned only on their belief that Jesus died for their sins and rose again (Romans 10:9).

God’s Secret Wisdom, Part 2

The second facet of God’s secret wisdom will be the way the Church is taken out of the world. At a time no one will be able to determine in advance, and without any prior warning, the Church will simply disappear off the face of the Earth forever, leaving the unbelieving world in utter chaos. Because the birth of the Church took Satan by surprise, the details surrounding the Church’s departure have to be even more obscure. He’s a quick study, after all, and has had 2000 years to review what little the Bible has to say about the Rapture. He wouldn’t be so easily taken by surprise a second time.

Being a student of prophecy, He knows at least as much as we do about the End Times. (Please remember this. It isn’t that Satan doesn’t know God’s plan, it’s that he believes he can defeat God’s plan.) He knows the rapture will precede the End Times judgments, will take place when the church reaches its full number, and that only God knows the number. But that’s about it, so his only hope is to prevent the Church from reaching that number for as long as possible. Because he doesn’t know what the number is, he’s effectively kept off balance. If he knew when the church was leaving, he could plan some a counter attack. But since he doesn’t, he’s forced to remain reactive, unable to relax, never knowing when the whistle will blow and the game will be over. I think that’s God’s real purpose in keeping the rapture secret.

When God does take the Church out of the world, there will be another abrupt change as the Age of Law returns for its last seven years. Once again the focus will be on Israel. There will be a Temple with sacrifices and all the other associated ceremonies. Except for all the missing people, it will be as if the Church Age never happened. And please understand, even when the New Covenant comes to Israel, it won’t be like it is in the Church. A Temple, animal sacrifice, required Holy days, and a Levitical Priesthood will continue into and throughout the Kingdom Age, or Millennium.

You see, it’s clear that the Church Age was not intended to be the next step in the progression of God’s plan, to supersede that which came before, and perhaps to be superseded by what comes after. It was a complete and radical departure from the norm and once completed it will never be repeated. Having known nothing but the Church Age, we don’t appreciate how unique we are. But as Paul wrote, people in ages yet to come will study the Church to learn the extent of the incomparable riches of God’s grace (Ephes. 2:7).

Here, There, Or In The Air

To underscore the Church’s uniqueness, its departure will have to be even more dramatic, even more cloaked in mystery than its arrival was. Soon and very soon, on a day that no one could have predicted in advance, believers will hear a loud command, “Come up here!” (Rev. 4:1), accompanied by the trumpet of God. Immediately the spirits of dead believers will receive new resurrection bodies, and the living will be transformed from mortal to immortal. Together we will meet the Lord “in the air” having disappeared from Earth in the twinkling of an eye (1 Thes. 4:16-17, 1 Cor. 15:51-53) and then we’ll proceed to His Father’s house (John 14:2-3).

This has always intrigued me. The Greek word for air refers to that space between Heaven and Earth called its atmosphere. So we’re not immediately going to Heaven, nor is the Lord coming all the way to Earth, as He will in the 2nd Coming. Instead, the meeting will take place in the atmosphere.

The atmosphere was created on the 2nd day when God made an expanse to separate the water under it (the sea) from the water above it (the water vapor canopy that surrounded the Earth until the flood.) He called it the sky or firmament (Genesis 1:8). Unlike all other creation days, the 2nd day was not pronounced good. Some scholars speculate this is because demonic spirits immediately inhabited it. This may be why Paul also referred to Satan as the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Ephesians 2:2).

If this is the case, then it means the Lord is going to shock Satan again, this time by suddenly assembling the raptured Church in his front yard without any warning. Each list of sins that Satan saw nailed to the cross 2000 years ago will be represented by one deliriously happy redeemed believer in a final grand display of victory before we fly off to our mansions in the sky. Talk about a dramatic ending for the Age of the Church. What a day that will be. Now do you see why its exact timing has to be kept secret?  We wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.  You can almost hear the footsteps of the Messiah. 10-02-10