Monday, September 17, 2012

The Rapture as Evangelism

Introduction

I recently wrote out my thought process for being a post-tribulation rapture believer. My view is common, but not nearly so common as the newer idea that Christians will be saved from the greatest persecution by being invisibly removed from earth. This "pre-tribulation" view (nicknamed the "Left-Behind" view) is arguably the most common in America today, but I don't expect it will remain that way. This view won't vanish, but I expect it to become less and less prevalent. Just as Postmillenialism suffered a damaging blow during the War to End All Wars and a fatal blow during World War Two, I think we'll see this eschatology fade until it practically vanishes, only held by small fringe groups, because of the years of harping on its veracity without any events or biblical passages to back it up. Constant false prophecy of immanent returns, and failed dates have created scoffers who cannot continue to keep believing this historically new and strange eschatology.

What will replace it? Unfortunately I can guarantee that it will not be the truth, some other fanciful unbiblical theatrical theology will arise and lead many astray. I cannot possibly guess with any accuracy, but my guess for this replacement will be the heresy of Preterism, the idea that the Second Coming and Resurrection have already occurred, but I won't be surprised if some other more heinous and imaginative heresy arises.

Your view of the timing of the rapture is not an essential doctrine, you will not lose your soul for following the pre-trib tradition. Many great saints have held this view. But, I fear that as this view largely dies with the church's elderly generation, that the church will lose ALL rapture theology, that the church is prepared to be removed from the earth and those remaining will be judged in righteousness. The rapture will be thrown out with the pre-trib theory, and it ought not be. The rapture is a recurring theme in scripture, the root word in the Greek is harpazo, it means to be plucked, repealed, removed. The word rapture comes from the Latin translation of this Greek word, it occurs in several places in the New Testament, for example, Christ was nearly seized by overzealous postmillenials (John 6:15), the evangelist has the duty to snatch sinners from the fire (Jude 1:23), Phillip was caught away to some far off place (Acts 8:39), Jesus was caught up to God (Revelation 12:5, cf. Acts 1:9), Paul was caught up into paradise (body or soul, I know not) (2 Corinthians 12:2-4), sheep without a shepherd are caught and devoured by wolves (John 10:12), and Jesus promised that none can pluck his saints from his hand (John 10:29).

The rapture that this article will focus on is the removal of Christians from the earth to meet Jesus in the clouds; we need to retain and understand the biblical purpose of this event. But what does it matter? Can't we just be pan-millenialists or pan-tribulationists, that "however it pans out is just fine with me"? Unfortunately it matters a lot in how we view God, and how we evangelize. This article will hopefully spur you towards good works, and an even more fervent and eager desire to see Christ.

I spoke to a person once whose plan of evangelism was to hold onto an unbeliever during the rapture and attempt to convince him to believe in Jesus on the way up. While this is a novel idea, it misses completely what the Bible says of that final day, and why on that day the unbeliever is without hope.

The Timing of Christ's Return

Christ has not returned yet, but he is sure to come, for scripture says, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come (Revelation 4:8)!" The reason he has not returned is quite simple, he is not willing that even a single one of his saints should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9). At the moment the sky disappears and Christ is seen in the Heavens, you can rejoice that the number of saints is complete, and be sure that no more men will be saved, and that Christ is prepared to conclude this present evil age.

Therefore, we are to be witnessing to unbelievers, as Peter says, "hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved (2 Peter 3:12)..."

If you are an unbeliever and are waiting to see the rapture happen before you will believe, Peter exhorts you to "count the patience of our Lord as salvation (2 Peter 3:15)" and Paul, "the patience of God is meant to lead you to repentance (Romans 2:4)." If you see the rapture as an unbeliever, then it is too late for you.

Christ as Judge

The Bible describes Jesus in two polarizing ways, as a just God, and a savior (Isaiah 45:21), that he punishes sinners AND forgives sinners; both are seen in the rapture. On that final day, he will come to "judge and make war (Revelation 19:11)." In the rapture, we see that Christ is righteous. Right now only believers see this (Proverbs 28:5), but on Judgment Day, everyone will see it, a myriad of verses say this.

Men will faint with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory (Luke 21:26-27)."

The word for faint means "die where they stand." The KJV says their "hearts will fail them." They will be scared to death.

In another place it says, "then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand (Revelation 6:15-17)?"

The last phrase is an allusion to several Old Testament passages, "But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears (Malachi 3:2)?" and "The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling has seized the godless: "Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings (Isaiah 33:14)?" And especially,

But you, who are to be feared!
__Who can stand before you
__when once your anger is roused?
From the heavens you uttered judgment;
__the earth feared and was still,
when God arose to establish judgment,
__to save all the humble of the earth. - Psalm 76:7-9
Dear reader, pause and consider the justice that will be displayed on the day that Christ returns. His patience will have run out, the sin of his enemies will have reached full measure, and grace and love will never again be felt by those who refused to kiss the Son.

"Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner (Malachi 3:5)..."

Christ as Saviour

But for the believer, a much different feeling will be kindled on that day. Continue the Malachi verse from above, "and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed (Malachi 3:6)."

For the believer, the one who abides in Christ, who is born-again, washed in his blood, made new in his Spirit, John exhorts us, "when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming (1 John 2:28)."

Peter explains that the Christian is "waiting for [a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells], therefore be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace (2 Peter 3:14)."

And Christ's personal promise, "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:3)."

Henceforth there is laid up for all who have loved his appearing a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award on that day (2 Timothy 4:8). "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4)."

The Rapture as Evangelism

On the final day there will be only two responses. The unbeliever will flee in fear, utterly terrified, and hide from the returning King. The believer will step forward in eager anticipation of the consummation of history, in meeting Jesus face to face, and in full assurance that he is a faithful God who keeps his promises.

There is no secret salvation for the believer in a veiled rapture. There is no second chance for the unbeliever in the warning of a rapture. There is hope in one man, the man whom has been appointed as judge of the world, who will judge in perfect righteousness, who commands all people to repent, and is assured because he has been raised from the dead (Acts 17:31).

Just as it is appointed once for a man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him (Hebrews 9:27-28).

Therefore, the rapture perfectly captures the character and nature of God, that he is a just God, and a savior, and besides him there is no other. Only in him there is righteousness and strength; to him shall come and be ashamed all who were incensed against him, but in the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and glorified (Isaiah 45:21,24-25).

This all points back to the cross, where God put Christ Jesus "as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness (Romans 3:25)..." and "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)." All evangelism should be centered on the law to bring a knowledge of sin, and then present grace, that salvation is available in the Christ who lived and died and lived again. The rapture captures this perfectly, that lawbreakers will face Christ as Lord and judge, and believers will face Christ as Lord and Saviour, his justice satisfied on Calvary's cross, and his grace poured out in abundance.

Conclusion

The day of the rapture will be too late to share your faith, for all who will trust Christ will have reached repentance, and all who are reprobate will face him as a Saviour scorned. Therefore, wait for this day and hasten it along by proclaiming his righteousness by calling for repentance, and proclaim his grace by imploring towards faith in his perfect name.

Until Christ returns, or calls you home, declare to the world that he is Lord of all, that to him every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall swear allegiance. Declare to mankind that his wrath is kindled, and that in his presence no man can stand, and that the only hope is God the Son who faced this wrath on a cross, who now calls out,
Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. - Isaiah 45:22
As for you dear reader, I pray that you are eagerly awaiting his return, that you will have confidence in his faithfulness and the sufficiency of his work on the cross, and you will not shrink back in fear at his coming.

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