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Paul's View On The Rapture Is At Odds With Jesus & The Bible
Why One's Rapture Concept Can Be Harmful
If we think we are raptured prior to the tribulation--a terrible time of woe--then we might rely upon that and not prepare our minds to endure the kind of woes which God describes taking place during the tribulation. This Christian-first rapture theory can pose a problem because Jesus warned us repeatedly to be strong and endure the tribulation as His followers. (See details below.) However, we have adopted the view that we are not even here. As a result, the repeated warnings from Christ are (a) diluted and (b) undermined. Hence, a Christians-first rapture theory can be harmful to preparing for the tribulation because it undermines Jesus's words to be ready and prepared for it.
We shall see that Paul incorrectly understood a rapture of Christians when Jesus and the Bible only had one group in mind for the rapture: the evildoers who are removed from the Earth when the Son of Man comes to conquer the Earth and brings to a close the tribulation. The righteous inherit the earth rather than are plucked out of it before the tribulation. Paul misundestood this, and misapplied (a) the timing and (b) who is raptured.
Paul's Rapture Theory At Odds With Jesus' Teaching
Prior to the 300s, none of the early church leaders ever repeated Paul's theory of a rapture of Christians. Paul's Christian-rapture view never was mentioned as part of any end-time anticipation by anyone between 100-373 A.D. Not once! The early church believed in what can be termed in today's terminology a non-Christian rapture premillenialism. As Michael Vlach points out: "The earliest Christians looked for three things: (1) the return of Jesus Christ; (2) a cataclysmic end to the present age; and (3) a bodily resurrection [from the dead]." (Michael J. Vlach, Eschatology in Church History (2003), printed at http://www.theologicalstudies.org/page/page/1572935.htm (last accessed in 2005).
No rapture away from earth of Christians at Christ's coming was anticipated. Vlach continues: "The one thousand year reign of Christ mentioned in Revelation 20:1-6 was viewed eschatologically and futuristically." Vlach points out that among the premillennialists in the early church were Papias (60-130), Irenaeus (130-200), Justin Martyr (100-165), and Tertullian (160-225).
However, in the late 300s, the first mention is ever made that Paul taught an initial rapture of Christians. The writer was Ephraem the Syrian. He is the only ancient source to cite Paul's passage to argue for such a rapture. His writing dates to 373 A.D. Up to that time, no one formulated any end time view based on Paul's teaching that Christians will be raptured into heaven away from earth at the Second Coming of Christ.
Ephraem the Syrian's commentary on 1 Thess. 4:15-17 from 373 A.D. was recently translated. It is entitled On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World. He states: "All the saints and elect of God are gathered together before the tribulation, which is to come, and are taken to the Lord, in order that they may not see at any time the confusion which overwhelms the world because of our sins."
How stark were the differences between Paul and the Book of Revelation? There is no way to insert a rapture of Christians into the non-rapture premillenial view set forth in the book of Revelation. The book of Revelation clearly teaches there is no rapture of Christians preceding in any way the Second Coming of Christ. Yet, 1 Thess. 4:17 does. Some Paulinists recognize the conflict.
To save Paul, some try to dismiss the importance of 1 Thess. 4:17. While they admit 50 verses in the Bible say there is a rapture first of evildoers--not Christians, they try to save Paul by insisting as to 1 Thess. 4:17, "We should not establish doctrine on one single scripture." (H. Speed Wilson, Rapture: Prophecy or Heresy? (1989), a paperback book, and a shortened version is available online at this link (last accessed in 2010).)
They go on to spin Paul in implausible ways to be talking entirely in spiritual language. Paul supposedly was not speaking of a physical real rapture. However, Paul is far too clear to permit such a solution. In the next section, we will prove precisely the Bible's clearly inspired books contradict Paul on the rapture.
Some argue for a secret rapture of Christians at Christ's Second of what represents three total returns. (Wayne Jackson debunks that idea in light of Jesus' words. See link.)
Paul versus the Book of Revelation and Jesus
In contrast to Paul, Revelation's end-time teaching did not permit any opportunity for a rapture of Christians before or after Jesus' Second Coming. Paul is the sole source of the idea that Christians are raptured when Jesus Christ returns. (1 Thess. 4:17.)
It appears Paul misunderstood the twelve apostles' teaching about the rapture of evildoers when Christ returns. Paul must have thought the apostles were talking about a rapture of Christians. Paul's idea of a rapture of Christians that leaves evildoers behind cannot fit into any scenario Jesus gave or which Revelation states. This is why we have all the conflicting versions of the rapture of Christians: pre-tribulation, post-tribulation, premillennial and post-millenial. Every solution to Paul's contradiction with Revelation has its rebuttal. These mutually repugnant theories are the direct result of trying to fit a square peg (Paul) into a round hole (inspired canon).
This may sound provocative until one makes an effort to clear their mind of the incessant Paul-inspired lessons we experience, such as from the film series Left Behind. The notion of a rapture of Christians has taken on a life of its own. However, if you read Jesus in Matthew and Revelation alone, you find the one and only rapture. It leaves Christians behind to inherit the earth. This is because Jesus and Revelation only speak of a rapture of evildoers.
Jesus twice and Revelation once says that when Jesus returns the evil are raptured out of the earth first, leaving behind the Christians. First, in Matthew 24:37-42, Jesus taught when He comes, it will be like in the days of Noah when the "flood came and took them [i.e., evildoers] all away." It is in that context Jesus says one will be taken and another left. The verb taken regarding the person at the mill is the same word as in the flood...took them all away. Just as the flood took all the evildoers away first, so will the evildoers be plucked out of the earth first and taken away at the Second Coming. Thus, Matthew 24:37-42 intends the reader to understand by a paralellism that the true Christian is left behind. The evildoers are the ones taken.
What helps confirm this is the Hebrew Matthew -- the oldest version of Matthew upon which the modern Greek translation was built. It has a variant that confirms Matthew 24:40 is talking of the rapture of evildoers, not Christians. See this link.
Furthermore, Jesus more clearly in Matthew ch. 13 made this identical point of rapturing evildoers first. This starts out as the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. When the angels come with Him in the clouds, they are careful to not take the wheat first (i.e., the Christians on earth). Instead, the command will go forth: "Gather up first the tares [i.e., evildoers]...to burn them." (Matt. 13:30.) Jesus then explains the parable's meaning: Jesus says this is precisely what will happen when the Son of Man returns. The evildoers will be taken first and then the wheat (Christians on earth) are gathered into God's barn. (Matt. 13:40.)
This precisely matches the Book of Revelation. Jesus' Second Coming is at Revelation 14:1 (standing on Mount Zion with the 144,00 Christian saints who endured the beast on earth). Then in Revelation 14:14, Jesus is up in the clouds hovering over the earth. It is then that Jesus puts forth a great sickle from the clouds to remove all the evildoers for punishment.
14And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle.15And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe. 16And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped..... 19And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs. (Rev. 14:14-20 KJV.)
Are the Christians already gone when the evildoers are removed? Absolutely not. They are on Mount Zion on earth in Revelation 14:1 when this happens. There is no rapture of Christians in Revelation at the Second Coming. Instead, Christians inherit the earth. Those Christians alive then will inherit the earth, and Christ will begin his reign over them at Zion.
Thus, Jesus twice and Revelation once says the rapture is first of evildoers at Jesus' Second Coming. (Matt. 13:30-40; Matt. 24:37-42; Rev. 14:1-4; 14-20.) Christians are left behind in the place where Christ is coming so as to greet Him: Earth.
The same principle appears repeatedly in Hebrew Scripture. The evil are to be removed, leaving the righteous, the poor, etc., behind to inherit the earth.
Ps 37:9-11 (KJV) "For evildoers shall be cut off; but those who wait on the LORD, they shall inherit the earth. For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more; indeed, you will look carefully for his place, but it shall be no more. But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace."
Prov 2:21-22 "For the upright will dwell in the land, and the blameless will remain in it; But the wicked will be cut off from the earth, and the unfaithful will be uprooted from it."
Prov 10:30 "The righteous will never be removed, but the wicked will not inhabit the earth."
Zechariah 3:11 JPS ASV "In that day [when God sets up the kingdom on earth]...I will take away out of the midst of thee thy proudly exulting ones....Thou shall no more be haughty in my holy mountain." 3:12 "But I will leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor [EBION] people, and they shall take refuge in the name of Yahweh."
Thus, Paul contradicts two passages of Matthew and the entire eschatology of Revelation, besides a great number of Original Testament passages.
Paulinist Re-Interpretation of the Book of Revelation
The Christian-rapture proponents believe the rapture is implied somewhere in Revelation ch.12, and thus precedes Jesus' Second Coming at Rev. 14:1. However, they develop unreasonable interpretations to make this claim. How so?
In Revelation 12:1, we see a woman who later is said to have given birth to Jesus (Rev. 12:5.) Incongruously, rapture-proponents equate this woman who gave birth to Jesus with the church. The reason they do so will be explained momentarily. But equating her to the church is grasping at straws to sustain their rapture-of-Christians view inherited from Paul.
It is Jesus who gave birth to the church, and not vice-versa. This woman cannot be the church giving birth to Jesus. That is offensive.
What is appealing about this woman representing the church to Paulinists/Paul-rapturists is this woman takes flight to the mountains. The rapture-proponents equate this flight to the rapture. However, even if this woman were the N.T. church (she cannot be), her flight to the mountains is on earth, not a rapture into heaven. Revelation is often figurative, but it is too far a stretch to say a flight to mountains is a flight to heaven.
Then who is the woman really? She represents the sons of Israel. That is how she gives birth to Jesus. It cannot be the church per se because the church did not give birth to Jesus. This woman must pre-exist Christ's birth. Yet, she is displayed here as the victor with Christ.
More Details From Revelation
Let's delve a little deeper into Revelation's prediction. When Christ returns and sets foot on Mount Zion (Rev. 14:4), He is welcomed by the 144,000 "saints." These had been previously sealed and thus protected from God's outpouring of wrath while they lived on earth. (Revelation 7:3-4.) After that period of wrath but prior to Jesus' return at Rev. 14:4, the beast comes to persecute and martyr them. This killing of the `saints' continues from Revelation ch. 7 through ch. 14. This is the tribulation period. They were persecuted by the beast, and many were killed. (Rev. 11:7. See Daniel 7:25.) Many suffered for "their testimony of Jesus." (Rev. 20:4.) Numerous times in Revelation, Jesus urges the churches to be prepared for this tribulation period and to be overcomers.
Who are these 144,000 saints who suffer for the "testimony of Jesus"? Based upon a presupposition of Paul's validity, these saints are portrayed by Paulinists as Jewish non-Christian evangelists. This is because these commentators believe Paul teaches Christians were raptured pre-tribulation. However, this notion that no Christian is on earth during the tribulation is nonsense. Jesus says the tribulation is shortened for the "elect's sake." (Mark 13:19-20.) This makes no sense unless Christians are present and suffering in the tribulation. And more important, Jesus is telling us we will be here so as to be prepared for the challenge rather than looking forward to a quick escape if we become a believer.
Further, Jesus tells us that "after the tribulation" that He will come on the clouds, and we will "see" this. (Matt. 24:29-34.) Jesus' portrayal is that Christians will be looking up from earth and see Him coming on the clouds. If there are no Christians continuously on earth before and during the tribulation, then Jesus' words have no significance as warnings, as clearly He intended.
Thus, Christians are in the tribulation according to Jesus in Mark and Matthew, and continuously so. Otherwise, Jesus's warning that we can "see this" is pointless. Accordingly, the 144,000 have to be the elect and faithful Christians. Revelation says they were in the tribulation which Jesus says was shortened for their sake as the "elect."
Thus, Christians did not disappear on earth between Revelation ch. 7 and ch. 14 (i.e., the tribulation period.)
Next, Jesus' Second Coming begins at Revelation 14:1. Jesus is standing on Mount Zion with the Christian saints who endured the beast. Then Revelation ch. 14 describes how Jesus is seen in the clouds with His great sickle to harvest the earth. Then the evildoers are removed from earth by the two sweeps of the great sickle. (Rev. 14:16-18.) The remnant of the faithful "saints" (the 144,000) are left behind to inherit the earth for their "testimony of Jesus." (Rev. 20:4.) Then the New Jerusalem comes down to earth. (Rev. 21:1,5.) The song the faithful sing then thanks God that "we shall reign on the earth." (Rev. 5:9-10.)
Thus, as Revelations tells it, the 144,000 saints are: (1) on earth before Jesus' return; (2) persecuted and frequently martyred just prior to His return for their faith in Christ; (3) seen on earth after Jesus' return; and (4) continue on earth inside the New Jerusalem where they live and reign. There is no mention of a rapture of living-Christians to go up seven years prior or when Christ returns who then come back with Christ. There is only mention of the evildoers being raptured, leaving the remnant Christians to inherit the earth. Those who disagree (e.g., Gundry) on the meaning of Revelation ch. 14 do so by untenable explanations.
Bob Gundry, a teacher at Westmont college, struggles to explain away this rapture of evildoers in Revelation ch. 14. He equates it instead with a rapture of Christians. He does this by first abstractly identifying this event as a grain harvest. He says Jesus "reaps a harvest of grain" in Rev. 14:14-20. (Bob Gundry, First the Antichrist (Baker Books: Grand Rapids, 1997) at 98-99.) Gundry then compares this to Paul's vision of Jesus taking us in a grain harvest. (1 Cor. 15:23, 35-49.) Gundry then says this grain harvest is presented as a blessing, citing Rev. 14:13. However, this verse does not say those caught away by Jesus' sickle are blessed. It says "blessed are the dead who die in the Lord...." It is clear in Rev. 14:18 that "grapes" are caught away from the earth in this harvest to be put in the winepress of the wrath of God "outside the city." (Rev. 14:19-20.) When pressed out, the juice that flows is identified as "blood." (Rev. 14:20.) This is a destruction of evildoers outside the city, not a blessing of those inside the kingdom of God. Gundry is wrong. Revelation 14:14-20 is speaking of the taking of evildoers at his Second Coming, identical to Matt.13:30-40 & Matt. 24:37-42.
The fact there is no Christian rapture is something easily understood by someone living in the 300-400 A.D. period. They have not experienced the media hype we hear about of the rapture of Christians. To a Christian thinker in the 300s, Paul's idea of a Christian rapture at Christ's coming would be easily recognized as at direct odds with Revelation's prophecy as well as the words of Jesus. Clearly, in Revelation, there is no Christian rapture to heaven first. Instead, in Revelation ch. 14 the first rapture is of the evildoers, just as Jesus twice said in the gospel accounts.
An even more detailed examination is in an email written to Ed. See this link.
Even one who accepts Paul as valid believes the Rapture of Christians as an escape from tribulation is a dangerous deception. See Speed Wilson, Rapture: A Dangerous Deception (2009).
Compare Enoch: Cf. Enoch 100:4,5 (remove evil first from Earth before resurrecting the dead.). See August Dillmann, The Book of Enoch (Clarendon Press, 1893) at 287.
First Fruit's Messianic Ministry Agrees
In October 2013, I received this email newsletter from First Fruits ffoz.org. It totally accords with what we conclude above:
"And God closed the door" - This was both a divine act of mercy for Noah and a divine act of judgment on mankind. God showed mercy to Noah both by saving him and not requiring him to shut the door.
This week's Torah portion: Noach
- Noach (?? | Noah)
- Torah: Genesis 6:9-11:32
- Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1-55:5
- Gospel: Luke 1:5-80
Yeshua indicates that during the time just before His return, although the warnings will be sounded, most people will just carry on with life as usual. This is the thrust of Matthew 24:38 which says that just as in the days preceding the flood, so also will it be like the days preceding the return of the Messiah. In those days, even though Noah was building the ark and preaching righteousness, people were ignoring him. They were living their usual life-getting married, gathering food, etc. Noah's message was being ignored. So will it also be in the days preceding the return of Yeshua. The message of repentance will be preached, but most people will give little heed to it.
"For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be." (Matthew 24:37-42)
Yeshua describes His return as being accompanied by a judgment. Just as the flood came and judged the people of Noah's generation, so also will His return bring judgment. He goes on to speak of those who will be taken away in judgment and those who will be left behind.
Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. (Matthew 24:40-41)
These verses are often interpreted to mean that when Yeshua comes, the one taken is whisked away to meet him in the sky. The one left working in the field was not a believer. That is why he was left behind. The one left grinding at the mill was not a believer. That is why she was left behind.
However, the "taking away" which Yeshua speaks of is not the "rapture," as some people interpret. Rather, since it is compared to the flood taking away people in judgment, the "taking away" refers to people being taken in judgment. His disciples asked, "Where [will they be taken] Master?" He answered, "Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered." (Luke 17:37) Thus we should understand those "left behind" as the righteous, not those taken away. "Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming." (Matthew 24:42)
Isaiah Chapters 24-27 Cover This Period: Evil Are Taken Leaving Behind God's People
Isaiah prophesies of taking all the evil out of the earth (24:1) to heaven for punishment there (24:21), leaving a small remnant (24:6) behind who rejoice (24:14). God then punishes the "host of heaven in heaven" (24:21) as well as the "kings of earth on earth." (24:21.)
Here are those passages:
1 Behold, the Lord will empty the earth[or land] and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants. (24:1, ESV) 6 Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left. **** 14 They lift up their voices, they sing for joy; over the majesty of the Lord they shout from the west [or sea] **** 21 On that day the Lord will punish the host of heaven, in heaven, and the kings of the earth, on the earth. (Isaiah 24:1,6,14,21, Bible Gateway, ESV.)
Isaiah prophecies that such persons (the "host" or great numbers) who came from earth who are now "in heaven" will be kept in a "prison, and after many days will be punished." (Isaiah 24:22.)
Then these events are restated with the accompanying signs.
Isaiah mentions that the moon will be "confounded" and the "sun ashamed." (Isaiah 24:23.) Jesus said likewise of this time: ""There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea." (Luke 21:25.) In Matthew, these events with the sun and moon are after the tribulation and before Jesus is visibly over the entire earth:
"Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken." (Matt 24:29.)
Next, Jesus says the earth will see the sign of the son of Man in the heavens coming in clouds of glory. Id., Matt 24:30.
Then Revelation 14 tells us the removal of the evil by the sickle is at this point, leaving behind the good to rejoice (Isaiah 24:6), while the evil are removed to heaven, and shut in a prison to await punishment. (Isaiah 24:21.)
Isaiah in chapter 25 prophesies of God setting up His reign from the Holy Mountain in Jerusalem, ending death forever, and wiping away all tears, in a very eloquent moving prophecy:
On this mountain the Lord [Yahweh] of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
7 And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
8 He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord [Yahweh] has spoken.
9 It will be said on that day,
“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
This is the Lord; we have waited for him;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:6-10, ESV)
Then in Isaiah 26:19, the prophet says "your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!" This is a resurrection on earth from the grave - rising into the New Jerusalem that is spoken about previously. This is evidently of those who keep righteousness and faithfulfness in Isaiah 26:2.
Then in Isaiah 26:20 appears a command about an historical moment that precedes the promise that the faithful shall rise. This is about a period of tribulation on earth, and how the faithful are to endure it. There is no promise in Isaiah 26:20 that we will be removed and never have to experience this. Similar to Jesus's warning that we should flee to the hills when we see the events of tribulation, we read in Isaiah 26:20:
Come, my people, enter your chambers,
and shut your doors behind you;
hide yourselves for a little while
until the fury has passed by.
While the faithful hide in their chambers, God says Yahweh "is coming out from his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their inequity." (Isaiah 26:21.) God is directly implying that the inhabitants on earth who are faithful are protected by an action of hiding performed by the faithful -- because warned by Isaiah (and later by Jesus) to take this action.
This is similar to the first passover where the faithful of Israel had to stay indoors and do something to avoid the angel of death: smear blood of a lamb on their doorposts. That 'hiding' commanded both by Yahweh to Isaiah, and by Jesus to us is the means of the tribulation passover which Isaiah is talking about. This time God will know who is who. The prophetic warning is simply hide yourselves for a "little while," and the fury will pass. Jesus added that it would be prudent to flee cities, and go to the countryside during this time of tribulation.
The danger of the pre-tribulation theories is that both Isaiah's and Jesus' direction on how to endure the tribuluation will (a) be not publicized as much as they should be; and (b) people who made a commitment to Christ will be disheartened when they go through tribulation of the nature that clearly fits Jesus' warnings. As a Christian can truly fall, and is not guaranteed salvation for a moment of belief, we should pray we will not be tempted to deny Christ by means of torture, etc. Both spiritual strength and physical distance are good antidotes to those temptations. Heeding Isaiah and Jesus is the key to enduring to the end, and if we do so, Jesus promises to save us. As Jesus said about the tribulation period: "But the one who endures to the end will be saved." (Matt 24:13.)
Is This Isaiah Passage About the Return of Christ ? Or Restoring Israel A Second Time (1947-49)?
Isaiah 11:11 It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set His hand again the second time To recover the remnant of His people who are left.
Is this about the rapture?
Barnes comments on this passage as talking of Jesus' return to gather the remnant of God's people on earth a "second time." This is a stretch. Even so, I would only underscore this 2d rescue would be like the first -- a physical return from scattered parts on earth to Israel, and not upward into the sky. Barnes writes (see this link):
The second time - shênyth. This word properly means, as it is here translated, the second time, implying that the prophet here speaks of a deliverance which would resemble, in some respects, a "former" deliverance or recovery. By the former recovery to which he here refers, he cannot mean the deliverance from Egypt under Moses, for at that time there was no recovery from scattered and distant nations. Besides, if "that" was the reference by the former deliverance, then that mentioned here as the 'second' deliverance would be that from the Babylonian captivity. But on the return from that captivity, there was not a collecting of the Jews from all the nations here specified. When the Jews were led back to Judea under Nehemiah, there is no record of their having been collected from 'Egypt,' or from 'Cush,' or from 'the islands of the sea.' It is evident, therefore, I think, that by the former deliverance to which the prophet here alludes - the deliverance which was to precede that designated here as the "second" - he refers to the return from the captivity of Babylon; and by the 'second,' to some still more future recovery that should take place under the administration of the Messiah. This is further confirmed from the fact that the whole scope of the prophecy points to that future period.