The doctrine of the rapture is a very misunderstood truth of the Bible. Many deny it or misconstrue the chronology of future events as the Bible places them to set the rapture in the wrong time. None of these issues will be taken up in this article, but rather we will address the question “what is God’s purpose for the rapture?” We hold to a pre-seventieth week rapture and this will be assumed through this article (see the doctrinal statement of “What we believe about the end times–eschatology“).
First, it is important to note that contrary to popular teaching, the Bible does set a few events that have to happen before the rapture can occur. Paul wrote, “For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death…” (1 Corinthians 4:9). This simple statement tells us that the apostles would die, not be raptured. Paul was martyred before Peter and yet Peter spoke of his soon to come death (2 Peter 1:13-15) indicating he did not expect to be raptured. He said clearly that “the Lord Jesus Christ hath showed me” (2 Peter 1:14) that he was going to die. This statement of Christ about Peter’s death is recorded by John (John 21:18-19) “signifying by what death he [Peter] should glorify God.” This same passage John acknowledges that there was an early false teaching that was rumored abroad that John would not die (John 21:20-23) which John writes about for the purpose of correcting the rumor, implying that he did expect to die. So the Bible plainly teaches the apostles would die before the rapture would occur.
This is relevant to understanding the common error of the rapture by addressing God’s purpose for the apostles. The Lord commissioned the apostles “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19-20). The command “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” identifies that the first teaching we are to observe “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations” as it is the nearest command to the imperative of observing all such commandments of Christ. In John chapter 17, referred to as “the high priestly prayer of Christ,” the Lord prayed to the Father “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil” (John 17:15). This prayer was not just for the apostles, but for all Christians throughout the centuries. “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word” (John 17:20). Notice that these words from the Lord express that throughout the Christian era, people should be continually believing in Christ through their words. Imbedded in this statement is the command that all Christians should be sharing the gospel as Christ commissioned before He ascended to heaven. So God’s purpose is to keep us in the world as witnesses, which is also why He sent the Holy Spirit to empower believers (Acts 1:8).
So why would God desire to remove the Christians from the earth?
In Paul’s second letter to the church in Thessalonica he wrote that the antichrist would be revealed only after the Holy Spirit’s influence through His indwelling of believers shall “be taken out of the way” (2 Thessalonians 2:7). Properly understood, this passage is one of the clearest attestations to a pre-seventieth week rapture. The context of this is the end time apostasy (2 Thessalonians 2:3). As the end time apostasy increases, the faithful obedience of the great commission decreases. This is the reason God will end the church dispensation. Charles Ryrie defined “dispensation” as: “a distinguishable economy in the outworking of God’s purpose.”1)Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Moody Press (Chicago, Illinoise: 1995), p. 28 His use of the word economy is to identify the management of a household, that is as a steward. Christians are stewards of the gospel (1 Corinthians 4:1-2; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 4:10). The major expression of apostasy is the failure of the stewardship entrusted to the churches of the great commission. God’s purpose of the rapture is not to be a blessing to Christians who have hunkered down and bore through the rough seas of life in this world, but rather a judgement on unfaithful stewards who have failed their stewardship and are therefore removed in order to place the stewardship in the hands of others that will be faithful–the Jews (Revelation 7:3-8).
Ryrie offered four “important characteristics of a stewardship, or dispensational arrangement”2)Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Moody Press (Chicago, Illinoise: 1995), p. 26 identifiable in the Lord’s parable in Luke 16:1-2:
1 Basically there are two parties: the one whose authority it is to delegate duties, and the one whose responsibility it is to carry out these charges. The rich man and the steward (or manager) play these roles in the parable of Luke 16 (v. 1).
2 There are specific responsibilities. In the parable the steward failed in his known duties when he wasted the goods of his lord (v. 1).
3 Accountability, as well as responsibility, is part of the arrangement. The steward may be called to account for the discharge of his stewardship at any time, for it is the owner’s or master’s prerogative to expect faithful obedience to the duties entrusted to the steward (v. 2).
4 A change may be made at any time unfaithfulness is found in the existing administration (“can no longer be steward”).3)Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Moody Press (Chicago, Illinoise: 1995), p. 26
This matter is dramatically addressed by Paul in his epistle to the Romans. Chapter 12 opens with Paul’s admonition: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2). In the passage, being “conformed to this world” is a warning not to fall into apostasy. Paul pleads to us not to become apostates because of “the mercies of God.” The placement of the word “therefore” directs us to the need to understand the preceding context to understand what he is referring to as God’s mercy.
Chapter 11 is the context that we must properly understand to know what God’s mercies are in Romans 12:1. Romans 11:1-7 discusses the fact that there has always been a remnant of Jews who will be saved, not conforming to the world as those who in Elijah’s day conformed to Baal worship of the surrounding pagan culture. Roman 11:7-10 addresses God allowing blindness to those Jews because of their unfaithfulness to God which parallels how God gave the gentiles over to blindness because their idolatry which Paul opened the epistle with in Romans 1:21-26. In the early days of earth’s history, God chose a faithful man, Abraham, to make an everlasting covenant with his descendants, the Jews. Paul then explains that the Jews current position, which he describes as a fall (as into apostasy) is for the purpose to save the gentiles (Romans 11:11-12).
Paul then addressing the gentile believers of the church in Rome specifically (Romans 11:13) seeking to explain these matters in order to “provoke to emulation them which are my flesh” (Romans 11:14); that is, to provoke or encourage the Jews to emulate or imitate his actions in both believing on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savoir as well as being faithful in proclaiming the gospel (see also Hebrew 10:24).
Paul refers to the Jews fall as “the casting away” (Romans 11:15) but assures a future time “receiving of them,” which he acknowledges with the imagery of a resurrection–“life from the dead.”
The imagery he employs next is that of an olive tree. Describing Israel as the branch of an olive tree that has been broken off and the gentiles are a wild branch that have been grafted in (Romans 11:17). Speaking to the gentiles, Paul warns of boasting about their current position (Romans 11:18-19). It is because of Israel’s unbelief that they were broken off allowing the gentiles to be grafted in. This is no reason to be high-minded, but rather to stand by faith and fear (Romans 11:20); “for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee” (Romans 11:21).
Paul then addresses God’s goodness and severity. His goodness is to the gentiles in receiving them while His severity is seen in judgement against Israel in that they were broken off in order to allow the gentiles to be grafted in (Romans 11:22). The gentiles are admonished to remain within God’s goodness “otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.” How much easier is it to graft the natural branch back into the tree than to keep the wild branch grafted in? The natural branch, the Jews, “shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again” (Romans 11:23).
Paul does not wish for the gentiles churches to be ignorant of this. He calls it a mystery (Romans 11:25) just as he uses this word to define the rapture in 1 Corinthians 15:51-54. Dispensations seem to be intrinsically connected with the mysteries of God being revelation from God (1 Corinthians 4:1; Ephesians 3:2; Colossians 1:25). This mystery is that blindness to the gospel on Israel’s behalf is “until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” (Romans 11:25). Then all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26), but for now their unbelief is for the gentiles to “obtain mercy” (Romans 11:30). This is the “mercies of God” mentioned in Romans 12:1–the gentiles being grafted in is due to the unbelief of the Jews. For the time being we are to be faithful stewards of this mystery (1 Corinthians 4:1) by building gold, silver and precious jewels onto the foundation of Christ being preached (1 Corinthians 3:11-12).
These are the mercies we gentiles receive and why we are to present are bodies as living sacrifices, fully submit to God’s will and commands. We have been commissioned to preach the gospel. It is our stewardship that God has given us to be faithful with. It will be our failure of this stewardship that causes us to be cut off just as the Jews had been (Luke 18:8). The growing apostasy is why God will rapture Christians out of this world and place the Jews back in their natural position as stewards of proclaiming God’s word. Thus the rapture is a judgment for the unfaithfulness of Christians being silent and fearful of witnessing for Christ. It is because of the failure of Christians in this dispensation that the Lord will remove us (Luke 16:1-2).
Charles Ryrie identified what he called a “secondary characteristic” of each dispensation is a “test.” “In one sense every dispensation contains the same test: Will a person respond favorably toward the responsibility of the particular economy under which he is living? Specially, this general test is particularized in each dispensation by the nature of the revelation God gave in each instance concerning man’s responsibility.”4)Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Moody Press (Chicago, Illinoise: 1995), p. 34-35 He follows with the question: “Is failure a necessary part of each dispensation? It is a fact of biblical history that mankind has failed throughout all the ages of time. Each dispensation is filled with failure–the realm of governmental economy and the realm of salvation. On both areas not all people have failed, but in both realms most have. Sin often seems to come to a climax at certain points in human history, and such climaxes mark the end of the various dispensations.”5)Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Moody Press (Chicago, Illinoise: 1995), p. 35 The sin climaxing this “church age” is the omission of the Great Commission–the failure of God’s chosen stewards to fulfill their stewardship.
The imagery of cultivated plants is a common depiction of God’s people throughout the Scriptures. In Isaiah 5, Israel is called “the vineyard of the LORD” and Judah is His “pleasant plant” (Isaiah 5:7). The Lord cultivates for the purpose of having “a very fruitful hill” (Isaiah 5:1); but the fruit goes bad so God’s judgement is to “take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: and I will lay it waste” (Isaiah 5:5-6). Through the prophet Jeremiah the Lord speaks to Israel saying, “Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?” (Jeremiah 2:21). Jesus Christ spoke a parable of a vineyard being planted by a householder but lent out to husbandmen that would not give the fruit to the rightful owner (Matthew 21:33-41). These hired husbandmen violently opposed the owner from receiving his fruit. Christ asked the crowd, “When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons…. And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them” (Matthew 21:40-41, 45). This depicts the Jewish nation as the natural branch being removed and another branch being grafted in. Christians are to bear spiritual fruits (Galatians 5:22-23). God the Father is glorified by us bearing much fruit (John 15:8); however, “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit” (John 15:2). When this present branch represented as Christians in the current dispensation no longer bears fruit it will be removed to allow the natural branch to be grafted back in to produce its own fruit.
Similar thoughts were expressed when Christ said, “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men” (Matthew 5:13). Salt was used to preserve food from decaying. Similarly, Christians should be restraining lawlessness in the world as an outworking of the indwelling Holy Spirit. As more people get saved society should be preserved from such moral decay. Obviously this is not happening. the overwhelming majority of those who claim to be “Christians” are, as Christ put it, “good for nothing.” Paul reminds us, “it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” (1 Corinthians 4:2) As Paul wrote to the Colossians:
whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily. (Colossian 1:25-29)
People who have mocked the rapture have done so on the claim that it is an “escapist theology.” Such mockers question why would God remove one generation of Christians before tribulation occurs when throughout church history Christians have suffered persecution and tribulations? This is a valid argument because most Christian misunderstand the rapture and have taught it as an escapist theology. In 1983 Dave Hunt proposed “A Contrary Scenario” to the common teaching of popular prophesy teachers that claimed the Bible taught an immanent economic collapse and nuclear holocaust. Hunt wrote:
A worldwide economic collapse followed by the greatest war in history and a nuclear holocaust do seem to be prophesied in the Bible. These events are part of that period described in Scripture as the “Great Tribulation” prophesied for the “last days” that lead up to Armageddon.6)Dave Hunt, Peace, Prosperity, and the Coming Holocaust, Harvest House (Eugene, Oregon: 1983), p. 16
If the economic collapse and wars occur during the “Great Tribulation,” he argued, than they did not occur prior to the rapture which precedes the tribulation period. Indeed, Revelation depicts the economic collapse and wars take place after the antichrist is revealed (Revelation 6:2-6). It is during the time when the rapture occurs that the world is saying, “Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:3). Dave Hunt concluded:
Economic collapse and another great war do not seem to be the next events predicted in Scripture. In spite of appearances to the contrary in the world around us today, a careful examination of the Biblical description of the “last days” prior to the second coming of Jesus Christ seems rather to suggest that boom, not bust, lies just ahead.7)Dave Hunt, Peace, Prosperity, and the Coming Holocaust, Harvest House (Eugene, Oregon: 1983), p. 17-18
Dave Hunt reasoned that the days preceding the rapture were compared to the days of Noah which was a time of prosperity (Matthew 24:37-39) and that the Laodicean church showed physical prosperity and peace which caused the spiritual poverty and apostasy (Revelation 3:14-18). Many other passages seem to indicate that the rapture happens when Christians are least expecting it (Luke 18:8). If the rapture is God providing escape from the chaos of the world we would not expect it to occur at a peaceful and prosperous period of history. This peace and prosperity would also attribute to the lukewarmness of Christians worldwide and essentially the failure of the stewardship of the Great Commission.
The idea that the rapture is God’s judgement on Christianity is at the heart of dispensational theology and refutes the accusation of the rapture being escapists theology. After the rapture Christian appear before Christ at the Bema Judgement Seat where the overwhelming majority of Christians will NOT hear “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:19-23). In this parable the unprofitable servant’s judgement (Matthew 25:24-30) should cause us to ask whether he was truly saved as fruitless branches are cast into the fire (John 15:1-6). The only difference between false Christians and fruitless Christians is that the first one is a biblical fact while the later is unheard of in the Scriptures.
Christ spoke of those who in the day of judgement would call Him “Lord, Lord” but were condemned as workers of iniquity (Matthew 7:21-23). These with false professions are said to be known by their fruits (Matthew 7:20); or could it be by the lack thereof? Christ said “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Paul’s words to the Romans was that preaching the gospel was “according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith” (Romans 16:26). True faith is manifested in expressing love to others by proclaiming the gospel. Anything less is disobedience–works of iniquity–and not of faith.
|↑1||Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Moody Press (Chicago, Illinoise: 1995), p. 28|
|↑2, ↑3||Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Moody Press (Chicago, Illinoise: 1995), p. 26|
|↑4||Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Moody Press (Chicago, Illinoise: 1995), p. 34-35|
|↑5||Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Moody Press (Chicago, Illinoise: 1995), p. 35|
|↑6||Dave Hunt, Peace, Prosperity, and the Coming Holocaust, Harvest House (Eugene, Oregon: 1983), p. 16|
|↑7||Dave Hunt, Peace, Prosperity, and the Coming Holocaust, Harvest House (Eugene, Oregon: 1983), p. 17-18|