In my previous posts on Peter’s first spirit-filled sermon, I remarked on those things Peter stated indicating the dead are not alive now. From this I pointed out the fallacy of today’s common belief that Christians immediately go to heaven after death. Today, I take this further, looking into scriptures pertaining to resurrection and what is commonly referred to as “the Rapture”. While this second term appears nowhere in scripture, there is certainly evidence of the event it refers to. I’ll remind you another term, born again, does not occur in scripture either but few would argue whether it applies to those of us who confess Jesus as Lord and Christ. My goal here is to explore a number of scriptures pertaining to the resurrection and the coming of Christ to see how they could all fit together.
Let’s begin with Paul in Acts 23 where he faces the Jewish leadership of the day, the Sanhedrin.
Acts 23:6 But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.
7 And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided.
8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.
9 And there arose a great cry: and the scribes that were of the Pharisees’ part arose, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God.
The Sadducees were the ruling sect of the Temple in the first century. The other major sect was the Pharisees though they were in the minority. As the passage above states the Sadducees “say there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit”. They did not believe in an afterlife – at all. Nor did they believe in any spiritual beings other the God Almighty. Now to me, even this presents a problem because while they only accepted the first five books of the bible (and rejected the prophecies and the oral teachings), there are significant references to angels in Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers. I’m not sure how they wrangled those scriptures.
So most Jews in the first century either believed in THE resurrection or that once you’re dead, your dead. Period. It looks to me like there wasn’t much room even then for… “well, you go to heaven immediately after you die.”. Huh.
Moving on, Paul was then brought to Felix, the governor of the province…
Acts 24:10 Then Paul, after that the governor had beckoned unto him to speak, answered, Forasmuch as I know that thou hast been of many years a judge unto this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself:
…14 But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets:
15 And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.
Notice this last bit – “here shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust”. Those words “shall be” are significant as they mean something will absolutely occur – in the future. This concept of THE resurrection (capitals mine) refers to a singular specific event. When will this event happen? Consider this conversation Lazarus’ sister Martha had with Jesus…
John 11:20 Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house.
21 Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
22 But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.
23 Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.
24 Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.
Be sure to check the context of this verse but I assure you, Jesus did not “correct” her assumption of a resurrection occurring on “the last day”.
Also note, it was established as a surety Lazarus was dead, not hanging out in heaven or some such. He was dead. Had Jesus not called him forth, Lazarus would have remained dead until the resurrection, just as Martha stated.
Look, I understand the sentiment. We hate to see our loved ones die. It hurts. We grieve. Many of us will grasp on to any straw to ease our pain. I get that – BUT, our pain doesn’t change the truth. When Jesus died, the ONLY hope for anyone (other than Jesus) was the resurrection of the just and unjust on the last day. The good news is, Jesus’ resurrection changed this. How?
1 Corinthians 15:20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.
24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
Now just wait a doggone minute here. What? Paul gives an order of events here. Christ, They that are Christ’s at his coming and THEN “cometh the end”. Doesn’t make sense that the last day would be “at the end”? Granted that word “day” here certainly refers to a period of time not limited to 24 hours. Even so, also during this period is “when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God”.
There is a sequence here and this sequence begins with Christ rising from the dead, followed by those who are Christ’s as his coming. What’s missing? The rising of the unjust, as you will see below.
1 Thessalonians 4:16 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:
17 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.
Now there has been lots of debate on the concept of the Rapture, a term never used in scripture. I’ve seen so much wrangling myself I’ve had my doubts as to whether to expect this event or not. While I’ve concluded that for me, personally, it doesn’t matter either way, I’m convinced this saying is true:
Jesus is coming back twice – once FOR his saints and once WITH his saints. The second return is this “last day” (again referring to a period of time not limited to 24 hours). What convinced me?
Look again at the scriptures above. Paul speaks of the resurrection of the just and unjust. Martha states this happens on the last day. Yet in Corinthians and Thessalonians, Paul marks out a precise group – “they that are Christ’s at his coming” (1 Corinthians 15:23) and “the dead in Christ shall rise first:
(verse 17) Then we which are alive and remain”. In case you were absent that day, those of us who confess Jesus as Lord and believe God raised him from the dead are justified.
1 Corinthians 6:11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
The word “justified” means to be made righteous and thus gives us the right to stand before God Almighty without any sense of sin, guilt, or condemnation. Why? Because our Lord Jesus paid the price with his precious, innocent blood.
Those who are the “unjust” will need to wait for “the end”. My understanding is those “unjust” will not be alone as both the “just and unjust” will rise on the last day, referring to all those who could not or would not confess Jesus as Lord.
For those who have passed on already, these distinctions are mostly moot. Their deal is done. It’s not like they are agonizing in the waiting room for their turn. We who are alive today have the hope of Jesus’ return. If I was smarter about it, this hope would keep me more on my toes as I’d be expecting Jesus to pop up at any moment. It may not hurt to note here that in the Revelation of Jesus Christ and elsewhere some specific markers are indicated before Jesus returns again – one of the biggies being the “the abomination of desolation”
Matthew 24:15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:)
16 then let them that are in Judaea flee unto the mountains:
17 let him that is on the housetop not go down to take out things that are in his house:
While I expect to be with Jesus when this happens, if I happened to see a report of “the abomination of desolation” on the nightly news, I’d getnervous – real nervous.
Now I extracted out just one tiny part of Jesus entire prophesy in Matthew 24. You might just want to go read the whole thing for, you know, context. The long and the short of it is, Jesus spoke of his coming – his return. Unlike those verses we read from Paul’s epistles, there is a whole lot going on before and after. The key to these prophesies, as I see it, is the distinction between the “just and the unjust”. Besides this key specification, the indication of the “last day” also points to two different periods.
Either way, how can anyone deny the concept of a resurrection and still claim Christ as Lord and Savior? I see no path for such a contradiction to be valid. Nor can I see any way to incorporate the false teaching that believers go directly to heaven when we die. Yes, I’ve seen the passages often pointed to. I’ve studied them. Taken by themselves, with enough twisting and turning, it surely is possible to pound those square pegs into the round holes but the result fails to stand up to scrutiny, even less when the very clear scriptures are taken into account. On the other hand, those few verses, when viewed in the light of other scriptures fit in just fine.
I’ll offer one solid example – one scripture that is often brought up is such debates:
Philippians 1:21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
22 But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not.
23 For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:
24 Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.
25 And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith;
So many have pointed to this triumphantly exclaiming “Ah HA! Here is your proof! Read it and weep, heretic!” (Okay, okay, yeah, I dramatized this a bit. 🙂
After all doesn’t verse 23 above state: “having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better”? It does indeed. And sure enough, it says what it says. But what is actually being stated here? Did the apostle state he when he died he was going straight to heaven? No.
First he said “to live is Christ and to die is gain”. Okay, this tells me he has no fear of death. Great. Then he says “For I am in a strait betwixt two”. In other words, given a choice between living and dying, it would be a difficult decision. I totally understand. Now comes this: “having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better”. THERE! Doesn’t he say when he dies he will be with Christ? No. It does not say that.
Now if you put this last part in parenthesis, it not only agrees entirely with the context but it also agrees with the other times Paul spoke of Christ’s return. The two “choices” were between life and death. The third option was the coming of Christ! Once one understands Paul has to be referring to a third option, all difficulties vanish! So… HOW can we know Paul refers to this “third option”? Because this is the only way this passage does NOT contradict other passages. In other words, you can’t have it both ways.
This brings up another potential difficulty from II Thessalonians 2. As I read the King James Version almost exclusively, I need to be constantly diligent in ferreting out the issues posed by the translators. Believe it or not, I’ve examined this passage countless times and it still gives me pause because I naturally tend take those words I read at face value first and afterwards do the mental gymnastics to work out what it really says.
In the case below, the process became far easier simply by comparing the KJV with the WEB (World English Bible). The verse in question is 2 Thessalonians 2:3.
2 Thessalonians 2:1 Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,
2 That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.
2 Thessalonians 2:1 Now, brothers, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to him, we ask you
2 not to be quickly shaken in your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by letter as from us, saying that the day of Christ had come.
3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For it will not be, unless the departure comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of destruction,
4 he who opposes and exalts himself against all that is called God or that is worshiped; so that he sits as God in the temple of God, setting himself up as God.
In the KJV, the word for “falling away” is the Greek word “apostasia”. According to Strong’s the word can mean apostasy, falling away, forsake, or defection (from truth). Yet the WEB renders this word as “departure”. Furthermore there are two (at least) views of the usage this word here. One agrees with the folks at Strong’s, contending either way, we should take this to mean the world is forsaking God. I’ll grant you, the idea that the world will forsake God is hard to argue against. In fact I will not do so because, well, just look at the world around us. However is this what Paul was referring to in this verse? Not so fast!
Another way of seeing this “departure” is to view it as a literal departure – as in the Rapture. Seen this way, Paul would be describing a sequence of events that also agrees with his other teachings. This also more readily agrees with the previous verses in this passage.
In 2:1 Paul speaks of our “gathering together unto him”, again this certainly suggests the Rapture. Then Paul goes on to say they don’t want the Thessalonians “quickly shaken in your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by letter as from us”. Troubled why? By “saying that the day of Christ had come”. Next he says that is not going to happen “unless the departure comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of destruction.”.
Now let this roll about in your mind a bit. How much comfort are you finding in the fact that people are turning away from God? When “that man of sin is revealed” will you breathe a sigh of relief? What about the subsequent events? (Don’t forget Jesus warned folks to head for the hills!) If none of these these things make you feel any better then why would the apostle Paul think they would be of comfort to the Thessalonians?
I cannot speak for anyone else but the one comfort I get from all of this is the idea that Jesus will come back before the stuff hits the fan and we will join him! Now I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, IF Jesus and/or our Heavenly Father asked for volunteers to stay behind, I’m pretty sure I’d be raising my hand. I won’t say enthusiastically but, yeah, put me in, coach. That said, let me suggest something to you… what IF, the Rapture is not just for the sake of us believers? What IF God has other purposes in mind? What IF our extraction is exactly what those who are “left behind” really need to see the truth?
My own conclusion is no matter how you view 2 Thessalonians 2:3, the verse does no preclude the Rapture. Jesus and Paul both specifically say THE resurrection will happen on the last day. We also know this resurrection pertains to those who have died. Paul also states the dead in Christ will rise first and the the living. This statement alone should give us pause for thought. If the living in Christ rise in the twinkling of the eye, who or what is left?
The only conclusion I can come to is Jesus, our Messiah, indeed will come back for those of us born again of God’s spirit, those who have accepted him as both Lord and Christ, whether asleep or awake. Then the rest will be dealt with accordingly
Below you’ll find a couple of sources used in my research. I’m listing these for your information and should not be construed as an endorsement. As you should with all such presentations (including mine) search the scriptures to see if these things are so.