the Christian life

The Rapture: An Overview

by Carol Berubee; excerpted from the book, A Primer on Pauline Doctrine: Revealing the Mystery of the Body of Christ

In precisely defining “resurrection,” we will find that someone being raised from the dead only to die again is not the same as Christ’s Resurrection. For example, when Elijah brings the widow's son to life, when Yeshua calls Lazarus forth from the tomb, and when Peter raises Dorcas to life, these are all instances of someone being raised from the dead who would later die again. These are all examples of someone being revived. Resurrection, on the other hand, is being raised to life eternal; that is, to never die again. Strictly speaking, Christ Jesus our Lord was the first to be resurrected; He was the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:22-23). Resurrection is always in reference to the body, not the soul/spirit because the soul/spirit never die. 

Resurrection itself is not the mystery that was revealed to Paul. Indeed, most Jews (except the Sadducees and Essenes) believed that they would be resurrected so that they may partake of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. The promises to Abraham and his seed imply a resurrection in fulfillment of those promises on earth (cf. Hebrews 8:8-13, 10:14-18, 11:8-10). There are a couple of specific references to resurrection in the Old Testament (Job 19:25-26; Daniel 12:1-3). In the New Testament, Yeshua teaches it (Matthew 22, Mark 12, Luke 20, John 5:29) and Martha believes it (John 11:24). 

The mystery of which Paul speaks concerns a "snatching away," such that those who are alive at the time it happens will have never died but instead be "translated," the body being changed like unto His glorious body (Philippians 3:20-21). This “snatching away” is different from any of the resurrection passages just noted above. All of the other resurrection passages necessarily concern the bodies of dead people being raised to eternal life, for this is the definition of resurrection. Paul's mystery concerns not only the resurrection of the dead in Christ but those believers who are alive when the Lord comes to the clouds. There will be a change in the body of flesh from corruption to incorruption (those who had previously died) and from mortal to immortal (those alive at His coming). 

1 Thessalonians 4
13 But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those [Christians] who are asleep [whose bodies are dead], that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; 17 then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.

1 Corinthians 15
51 Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep [die], but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible [body of flesh] must put on incorruption, and this mortal [body] must put on immortality.

In Romans 8, Paul says that Christians await the redemption of the body (v. 23). The Holy Spirit seals Christians now as an earnest (down payment) on the full redemption to come (2 Corinthians 1:22, 5:5; Ephesians 1:14). While being sealed (marked) by the Spirit does speak to our assurance of present salvation, the more precise meaning of salvation is that it’s more than a spiritual change in this lifetime (as glorious and meaningful as that is!); in God's plan, salvation is complete when the body is redeemed. For the Body of Christ, this redemption will take place at the Rapture. 

The dead in Christ are all those who are part of the Body of Christ (post-Cross believers) but who have died. Their souls and spirits are already in Heaven with Christ (2 Corinthians 5:9) while their bodies remain in the ground. At the Rapture, those bodies will come out of the graves and be reunited with their souls/spirits that Christ will bring with Him at His coming (1 Thessalonians 4:14). For those in Christ who are still alive at the time of the Rapture, there is no need of a reuniting of body, soul and spirit. However, both groups -- the dead in Christ and those who are alive at His coming -- will need a new body, one that will be like that of Christ's resurrected body (Philippians 3:20-21). 

Because the Body of Christ was a mystery which only Paul reveals and describes, it stands to reason that only Paul tells us of the Rapture of this Body. Enoch and Elijah could not have received glorified resurrection bodies when they were “translated” without having died because no one could receive such a body until after the Lord Yeshua did. In John 14:3, pre-Cross, the Lord Yeshua implies a Rapture, but He says nothing of this reception unto Himself as occurring at a specific time, such as prior to the Tribulation period. So far as the disciples knew, they had to endure a time of tribulation, after which the times of refreshing would come (Acts 3). It is reasonable, therefore, to view John 14:3 as a gathering of the disciples at the Second Coming. The Apostle Paul teaches us that the Rapture of the Church will occur prior to the Tribulation and he gives the theological reasons behind this timing. 

- The Body of Christ is Saved by Grace, Not Works 

One argument often made by those who deny a pre-Trib Rapture is that Christians must prove themselves under the conditions of wrath such as will be the substance of the Tribulation period. But an understanding of the foundation of Christianity will preclude the thought that the Church needs to be tested under wrath. The epistle to the Romans is conclusive that the wrath of God against sin was poured out on the Lord Yeshua at the Cross, fully satisfying His justice, holiness, and righteousness concerning sin. God’s wrath remains and abides only upon those who never believed God, including those in this dispensation who do not believe the Gospel (that Christ died for sins, was buried, and was raised from among the dead three days later in a flesh and bones body). Only those who are not saved during this present dispensation will enter into the Tribulation period (if they are living at the commencement of the Tribulation, of course). 

There will be a moment in time when the fullness of the Gentiles will have come in and the Church will be removed. God’s longsuffering will have ended and His judgments will be poured out. The Tribulation is a time of Jacob’s trouble (Jeremiah 30:7), a time reserved, primarily, for the restoration of Israel, under the judgment of God, in preparation for the Millennial Kingdom. The unbelieving Gentiles will also endure this time of wrath. The current dispensation will have ended with the Rapture of the Church, so the Gentiles in the Trib will face the wrath of God. Those who would be saved during the Trib will be subject to, and confined under, the judgments of God until such time as they are saved, at which time they will be persecuted by opposing forces, but no longer under the wrath of God. Those entering the Tribulation will be eligible to be saved if they had not previously heard and rejected the Gospel in this dispensation (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12). During the Trib, they must believe the Gospel of the Kingdom as proved by their works (Matthew 25:31-46). 

Christians now are saved by grace and are, therefore, under no condemnation (Romans 8:1). The Law condemns, but Christians are not under the Law (Romans 6:14, 8:2; cf. Galatians 5:1). Where there is no law, there is no imputation of trespass that would result in condemnation. Our position in Christ is by His grace, not our law-works; therefore, there is no place for testing under God's wrath. 

- The Body of Christ is Not Appointed to Wrath 

Another argument often posed by those who deny a pre-Tribulation Rapture is that there are Christians all over the world right now who are coming under persecution; therefore, the Church as a whole must be subject to the persecution unleashed by the Antichrist during the Trib. However, it will be seen that the persecution that some Christians are now suffering is not the wrath of God but the sinfulness of man in this fallen world. Christians have always been persecuted by unbelievers; such is the nature of man, but this isn’t the wrath of God. The Tribulation period, however, will be marked by the wrath of God; that is, His direct judgments upon unbelievers will begin when the Trib period begins. Compare these two passages: 

Ezekiel 14
21 For thus saith the LORD God: “How much more when I send my four sore judgments upon Jerusalem, the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beasts, and the pestilence….”

Revelation 6
1 And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals… 2 And I saw, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat thereon had a bow; and there was given unto him a crown: and he came forth conquering and to conquer. 3 And when He opened the second seal… 4 And another horse came forth, a red horse: and to him who sat thereon it was given to take peace from the earth, and that they should slay one another; and there was given unto him a sword. 5 And when He opened the third seal… I saw, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat thereon had a balance in his hand… 6 …“A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny…” 7 And when He opened the fourth seal… 8 …I saw, and behold, a pale horse: and he who sat upon him, his name was Death; and Hades followed with him. And there was given unto them authority over the fourth part of the earth to kill with sword, and with famine, and with death, and by the wild beasts of the earth.

God defines, through Ezekiel, the “four sore judgments” of death by violence, famine, death by pestilence, and “noisome beasts” as His judgments upon Israel. We see these same four judgments at the commencement of the Tribulation period as foretold in the Revelation, judgments not confined to Israel alone, but which will affect the whole world, so that one fourth of the earth’s population will die (Revelation 6:8). More will die as the judgments continue to be poured out by the appointed angels, again affecting the whole world. So, we see that even from the beginning of the Tribulation period, with the opening of the first seal, it is God’s judgment on the world.

But Paul says that we, Christians, are not appointed to wrath. 

Romans 5
8 But God commends His own love toward us [believers], in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, being now justified by His blood, shall we be saved from the wrath of God through Him [Christ].

1 Thessalonians 1
10 And to wait for His Son from Heaven, Whom He raised from the dead, that is, Jesus, Who delivers us from the wrath to come.

1 Thessalonians 5
9 For God appointed us not unto wrath, but unto the obtaining of salvation [deliverance] through our Lord Jesus Christ 10 Who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.

- Christ is the Head of the Body 

In explaining the union of man and wife, Paul makes the connection between this earthly bond and that of Christ as Head of the Body. 

Ephesians 5
29 For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ also the Church; 30 because we are members of His Body. 31 “For this cause shall a man leave his father and cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is great: but I speak in regard of Christ and of the Church.

The Lord Yeshua loves His Body, the Church; He nourishes and cherishes the Church. We are, as individuals, members of His Body. He loves us; He does not pour out His wrath on us. He chastens those He loves, indeed (Hebrews 12:6); we are children of God, disciplined by a loving Father. Chastening and discipline, however, are not equivalent to condemnation and wrath. We must fully grasp the truth that Christ is the Head of the Body, of which all Christians are members. We cannot separate ourselves, or the Body, from the Head. We are one New Man, created in Christ, never to be separated from Him. “No man ever hated his own body, but nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ also the Church.” 

- Christians are Children of Light 

1 Thessalonians 5
1 But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that aught be written unto you. 2 For yourselves know perfectly that the Day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. 3 When they say, “Peace and safety,” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall in no wise escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that that Day should overtake you as a thief. 5 For you are all sons of light and sons of the day; we are not of the night, nor of darkness.

We should immediately notice two distinct groups of which Paul speaks. There are the “brethren,” the “sons of light,” the “sons of the day;” and then there is another group referred to as “they” and “them” who think they have reached peace and safety but who succumb to destruction instead. 

The Day of the Lord begins with the Tribulation when that first horse and rider of Revelation 6 come on the scene, bringing a message of peace and safety. That Day, the Day of the Lord, comes as a thief in the night, but we are not of the night. The Antichrist (the rider on the first horse) comes in peaceably (Daniel 11:21-24), deceiving many, and then the rest of the judgments continue. Christians will not be subject to these judgments because we are not of darkness, but are sons of light. We were translated from Satan’s Kingdom of Darkness into God’s Kingdom of Light (Colossians 1:12-13, Ephesians 5:8) where we are safe in Him, never to come under condemnation or wrath. 

- The Holy Spirit, the Restrainer 

2 Thessalonians 2
1 Now we beseech you, brethren, touching [concerning] the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto Him [the Rapture]; 2 …that you be not quickly shaken from your mind…(to think) that the Day of the Lord (the Tribulation; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:2, above) is now present. 3 Let no man beguile you in any wise, for it [the Day of the Lord] will not be except the falling away [Gr. apostasia] come first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition [Antichrist]. …6 And now you know that which restrains [i.e., the Church], to the end that he [Antichrist] may be revealed in his own season. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work: only there is One Who restrains now, until He [the Holy Spirit] be taken out of the way. 8 And then shall be revealed the lawless one [Antichrist]…

We translate “One Who restrains now, until He be taken out of the way” (v. 7) as referring to a male person because of the Greek construction and, based upon this observation, we reason that this person could be the Holy Spirit. Further, logic and faith will convince us that only God could restrain the Antichrist from being revealed until the appointed time. I quote Strombeck at length: 

In the restraint of him [Antichrist] is seen a great spiritual contest. Because the workings of the wicked one are spiritual, the One who restrains him must also be a spiritual Being. He must be stronger than Satan who energizes the wicked one. Of the Restrainer Paul wrote, “There is one that restraineth now, until he (a person) be taken out of the way.” Paul wrote now nineteen hundred years ago and the Restrainer still restrains. Only a divine being can be said to be spiritual, stronger than Satan, and have exercised a restraining influence for more than nineteen hundred years. He that restrains must, yes must, be One of the triune Godhead. 

As the Holy Spirit is the only member of the Godhead that has been residentially active on earth during these nineteen hundred years He must be the One who restrains and will continue to restrain until He be taken out of the way.

The Holy Spirit indwells each Christian and cannot be removed, individually. The Body of Christ is one corporate entity that is enlifed by the Spirit of Christ. The only way to “take away” the Spirit from His restraining influence on earth is to remove the Church as a whole. Prior to the inauguration of the Church at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was, of course, omnipresent on earth. After the Rapture, this will not change; the Spirit will operate on earth just as He did prior to the formation of the Body of Christ. 

And so we have in 2 Thessalonians 2 the order of events: the Day of the Lord, beginning with the Tribulation, cannot commence until there first comes a great apostasy and the coming in of the Antichrist (the rider on the white horse of the first seal in Revelation 6). The coming of the Antichrist is the beginning of the Tribulation, but he cannot come until the Restrainer (the Holy Spirit in the Church) is taken out of the way. “And then shall be revealed the lawless one…”

1. J. F. Strombeck, First the Rapture (Moline, Illinois: Strombeck Agency, Inc., 1950), p. 100. Emphasis in the original.