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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8am service, 2002-02-24

Text: I Corinthians 15:51-53

I. What is the Rapture?

The Rapture is a supernatural event where millions upon millions of born-again Christians will suddenly disappear from the earth. It is that moment in time when we will finally be united with the Lord Jesus Christ. The Rapture will begin when Jesus appears in the clouds above the earth. Christians who have already died will resurrect from their graves and be brought up to Him. Next, those believers who are still alive at that time are transported right off this earth, and are also taken up to meet Him. Then there will be a huge, joyful reunion in the sky, of Christians from all nations and from every age in history with the Lord, who will then lead them to their home in Heaven. 

Now, this sequence of events is based on the Word of God in 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17 '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.' 

The words 'caught up' in v.17 is where the word 'Rapture' comes from, as Rapture is a Latin word which means 'seizing and carrying away'. Technically speaking, the Rapture is actually a different event from the Second Coming of Christ although they are often put together. The Rapture is when Jesus comes in the air for His Church, but His feet will not touch earth. The Second Coming of Christ by contrast, takes place a few years later, when Jesus comes back to earth with His church and His feet stand on the Mount of Olives (Jude 14; Zechariah 4:14; Revelation 19:14).

In the Rapture, Christ comes to fetch His bride (which is the church) up to heaven so that the church can join in the Marriage Supper of Lamb (2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 19:6-9), but at the Second coming, Christ will come to make War on earth with the armies of the world and the only supper will be the one enjoyed by the flesh-eating birds and vultures (Revelation 19:17,18).

In the Rapture, Christ will come down in the same way that he ascended up to heaven - without a horse (Acts 1:9-11), but at the Second Coming he will descend from heaven riding on a white horse (Revelation 19:11). These differences show that there are two separate events - the Rapture of believers comes first, and then several years after that, the final descent of Christ in His Second Coming.

II. What is The Purpose of the Rapture?

Some of you may be wondering why the events have to happen in this way. Why should the Rapture be a separate event from the final descent of Christ to earth? Why do we have to be caught up to meet Christ in the air first? Why can't we just be allowed to remain on earth until Christ comes right down to the earth? From the description of the Last Days in many Bible passages, we can see that God's purpose for the Rapture is to keep believers safe from suffering all the awful plagues and judgments that God will bring upon the world because of its sins. When the full fury of God's wrath is poured out on the people of the world (Revelation 16), everyone on earth will be smitten with painful sores, the seas, rivers and streams of the world will all turn into blood, the heat of the sun will increase tremendously, scorching people with fire!

We cannot even begin to imagine the intense pain, sorrow, chaos and terror that all this will cause to people living on earth. No plague or natural disaster in the world can ever compare with these end-time judgments that unbelievers will experience! I don't think that any of us will want to be around when these things happen. And the good news is that we won't be here when they come! Since these judgments are only meant for unbelievers, those who are believers should not have to suffer from these terrible judgments. And so the Lord will take them out of the world before He pours out His great wrath on it. The Lord who is the great Judge of all the earth is not unrighteous to punish the righteous with the wicked (Genesis 18:25). His children are dear to Him, and so He must take them out of the world before His judgments go forth into the world.

In fact, we have God's assurance given to us in 2 Peter 2:9 'The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished.' This assurance is demonstrated in God's protection of Noah and his family who were kept safe in the Ark, while the rest of the world perished in the Great Flood (Genesis 6:17,18). This assurance of divine protection is also demonstrated in His removal of Lot and his family from Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:12,13) just before His judgement rained down upon these sinful cities in the form of fire and brimstone. How thankful those who were delivered must have been when they realised that they have been supernaturally spared by God from the awful destruction that befell all the rest.

And we who are living in the Last Days and are close to the time when the end-time prophecies will be fulfilled, should be especially thankful to God for this blessed assurance that He will keep us safe from suffering all His judgements. And how will He do that? - By the Rapture of all believers! The Rapture therefore glorifies not only the power of God, but also the goodness of God to His own dear children. It speaks to us of His great mercy and love toward us.

However, this does not necessarily mean that everything will be fine, and that there will be absolutely no suffering at all for believers in the Last days. Although we are spared from God's wrath, we may still have to face persecution from the ungodly people of the world - a persecution which will get much worse in the end times as the Antichrist is revealed. Jesus Himself said, 'Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for My name's sake.' (Matthew 24:9) But when the time comes for us to face all these persecutions, we can take comfort that they are nothing compared to the wrath of God that we are spared from because of the Rapture! And so while we thank God now for the biblical teaching of the Rapture of believers, let us also prepare ourselves well spiritually to face persecution for the sake of Christ in the end-times!

Having seen what the Rapture is all about, we shall now proceed to look at the things that we can look forward to, in it:

III. What Should We Look Forward To In The Rapture? 

A. The Fulfillment of the Promise of Christ to Us

The Rapture of believers was promised by the Lord Jesus Christ just before His crucifixion. In John 14:2,3 He said to His disciples 'Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In My Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.' Christ made this promise to His disciples when they were all troubled by the news that He was going to leave them. In a short while, He would be gone from them and they would see Him no more. 

How they would miss Him then, and long for the Day when they can see Him once again. And this is precisely what Jesus promised � that that Day is coming. Because of this promise the disciples can joyfully anticipate the time when Jesus will be back to receive them and take them to the mansions He has prepared for them in glory, and where they will never ever have to part with their beloved Master again. And this promise, which is as precious to us as it was to them, will be fulfilled at the Rapture! 

Now Christ supported this promise He made of the Rapture, by giving His disciples a wonderful preview of it. The disciples saw this preview when Christ ascended up to heaven. The important feature of Christ's ascension was that He ascended bodily. It was not merely a spiritual ascension, nor a vision of Jesus ascending seen by the disciples. It was full bodily ascension! The body of Christ after His resurrection was a physical body that could be touched and held by the disciples, and that could ingest food that was given to Him. And yet this same physical body of His was glorious in that it could vanish and disappear at will, and defy all the known laws of physics.

And so, if we are alive when Jesus returns, we will be instantly transformed to have that same glorious body He has. And then, like Him at His ascension, we too will find ourselves defying the law of gravity, and travelling upward to meet with Him in the sky. The power that enabled Christ to ascend up to heaven is the same power that will enable the raptured saints as well as the resurrected saints to ascend up to heaven to be forever with the Lord. Because of this, Jesus Christ is called our 'forerunner' in Hebrews 6:20. The term 'forerunner' refers to someone who goes into a place first first as an 'advance party.' He went up to heaven in His ascension to blaze the trail to heaven, so to speak.

He has inaugurated the pathway up to heaven that we will one day be taking when we are raptured up to meet Him in our new bodies. At that glorious day, our identification with Christ will be full and complete. This brings us to the second thing that we can look forward to in the rapture. It will bring:

B. The Completion of the Full Likeness of Christ in Us

The Scriptures tell us that we who are Christians are identified with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection (Romans 6:4,5). But one day, not only would we have died with Him, been buried with Him, and raised with Him from the dead, but we will also be ascended up to Heaven with Him. This is complete identification!

How wonderful for us it will be, to be exactly like Jesus Christ in all aspects of His life! There can be no greater joy and satisfaction to the soul than this. Dearly beloved, do you know that the ultimate purpose that God has for you and for me is to become like the Lord Jesus Christ in every way? In Christian living, our aim is to be fully conformed to the moral likeness of Christ - to become righteous as He is righteous, and holy as He is holy. In our thinking, our goal is to develop minds that think the way that the Lord Jesus Christ did. There are exhortations in the Bible that direct us to have the mind of Christ, e.g. Philippians 2:5 'Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus' Having the mind of Christ means having the same worldview, the same values that Christ had, and the same purposes that motivated Him to live the way that He did. 

While God expects us to strive hard to attain these two aspects of Christlikeness - the moral likeness and mental likeness - the third aspect of Christlikeness is something that we do not have to strive for at all! It is the physical likeness of Christ in us. This will all be effected by Christ Himself: Philippians 3:21 'Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto himself.' And the time when this change occurs, will be at the Rapture, as I John 3:2 tells us 'Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.' The Rapture is therefore the grand climax of our Redemption - a redemption that is comprehensive, because it encompasses the soul, the mind and the body!

This is a change we can all look forward to, as much as we look forward to the fulfillment of Christ's promise to take us with Him to heaven, and the completion of His full likeness in us. This change speaks to us now of the third thing that we look forward to in the Rapture, which is: 

C. The Exaltation of the Power of Christ to Change Us

Our text in 1 Corinthians 15 mentions two features that really brings out the magnitude of this change. Let us look again at this passage (vv.51-52) '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.'

The first feature that is mentioned here about this change is that it is a mystery. The word 'mystery' here implies that it is a great truth that has never been known before, and that is also beyond human comprehension. There are endless questions people can ask about the change our bodies will undergo in the rapture, like How will we feel inside this new body? Will we look old or young? Will children who are raptured become children forever? Will those who are very old with wrinkles still look old? These things are still a mystery to us, and we will not know the answers until the Rapture actually takes place. But one thing is sure about this change - it will be absolutely glorious, and worth waiting for!

The second feature about this glorious change mentioned in the passage is that it will take place 'In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye' Have you ever wondered, how fast is a 'twinkling of an eye'? Well according to the dictionary it is the time taken for a person to blink his eye and that is only about 1/100th of a second. This means that the change here is not gradual but instantaneous. One moment we are in our old mortal bodies, and at the next moment, we are already in our new immortal bodies! Can you imagine that the huge unbridgeable chasm between mortality and immortality will be crossed in only a moment, in just the blink of an eye!

You know, going through this change is really going to be the most awesome experience that anyone has ever gone through! And this makes us realise what great power Christ must have to bring about a change of this magnitude. This is the power we can all look forward to witness.

It will be even better than the Israelites watching the parting of the Red Sea, or the disciples watching our Lord Jesus calming the storm or feeding the five thousand. It will be a powerful transforming miracle that you and I will actually feel as it takes place right within us! You know, just thinking about the Rapture should make us wish that it could happen to us even right now. How wonderful it will be to be transformed, and to see Christ face to face and to have our redemption all completed! This is what we call our 'lively hope' (1 Peter 1:3) - a hope that will motivate us to press on now, as we prepare for the Rapture! And so we come now to the final part of our message: 

IV. How Should We Prepare For the Rapture?

A. Ensure That You Will Not Be Left Behind

How can you ensure that you will not be left behind on earth when the Rapture of believers takes place? By making sure that you are truly born again. This lively hope that we have just learned about is only for those who are born again. If you are not born again, but only a Christian in name, then you will be left behind. Let us turn our Bibles to Luke 17:34-36 to see the sad situation that some will face at the Rapture: 'I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left'. Imagine yourself enjoying a meal with your spouse at home. Suddenly she disappears and the truth dawns on you that you have been left behind! How awful that will be! And so, you be sure of your salvation. If you are not sure of your salvation, won't you receive Jesus as your Saviour right now? Do not delay, as it will be too late. This is the first and most important way to be prepared for the Rapture. Besides that you should also: 

B. Be Watching Rather Than Disputing About The Timing of The Rapture

Christians today sometimes spend too much of their time and effort vigorously defending their pet views on the timing of the Rapture. There are three different views taken by Bible-believing Christians. Many believe that the Rapture will take place at the beginning of the Seven Years when the Anti-christ will rule. This is called the Pre-tribulational Rapture (cf. Revelation 4:1). Others believe that we will be Raptured in the middle of the Seven Years just after the seventh trumpet judgment is sounded.

This is called the Mid-tribulational Rapture or 'Last Trumpet Rapture' as our Pastor calls it (Dr Buswell, cf. Revelation 10:6; I Corinthians 15:51-52). And yet others believe that the Rapture will take place between these two timings - not at the beginning of the seven years, nor after the seventh trumpet, but rather at the sounding of the first trumpet. This view, which is known as the Pre-wrath Rapture (Marvin Rosenthal, cf. Revelation 6:12-17).

I won't bother you with all the various arguments for and against each view. Actually many good reasons can be given for each of these views, and perhaps we will not know exactly who is right or wrong until Christ comes! Whichever view you take, the important thing is to be sure that you can go when the Lord comes to take us home. 

There are people today who spend hours studying the Bible verses for the wrong reason - To attempt to predict the exact date of the Rapture. In the 1840s a farmer in the US named William Miller started the Adventist movement, predicting that Christ would return in 1843. Those who believed him, sold their homes, gave up their jobs and waited for Christ to come. When nothing happened, Miller went back to his calculations and said that he had made a mistake and that the actual date of Christ's return was October 22, 1844. After the 'great disappointment' Miller admitted his error. Many people left the Adventist movement.

In July last year, someone gave me a call at the church office and claimed to know when the Rapture will take place. He said that based on his detailed research and calculations, it will be in April 2005! He even said that the identity of the Antichrist would be revealed by October 2001. But we are now already coming to the end of February 2002 and the Antichrist still has not appeared! So here evidently is another false prediction. The fact is, that we cannot know the date of Christ's return. In Matthew 24:36 Jesus Himself said,'But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but My Father only.'

All we should say is that the Rapture is imminent! This imminency must keep us in a state of constant expectancy, always looking for the coming of the Lord. The imminency of Christ's return has been a beacon of eternal hope within the heart of every believer in Christ since the first century, and given them every motivation to be prepared to meet with Christ. 

C. Prepare Yourself To Meet With Christ

We end our message on the Rapture of believers this morning, by looking at the preparation we should make, as we await our Saviour's coming to take us home: 1 John 3:2,3 'Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.' May the Lord help us now to do this - purify yourself. Are there things in your life that you need to change? Look at yourself now! Are you all that you should be? If you are not, then you'd better hurry and get yourself ready, because Jesus is coming soon!

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25