THE RAPTURE OF THE CHURCH …
WHAT IS IT?
By Bill Britton
One of the most persistent doctrinal questions from sincere, truth seeking people today is: What about the “rapture”? What happens when Jesus returns to earth? How soon is it going to happen? Who will be in it? Many saints, enlightened by the Spirit, have come to an awakening realization that the old traditional theories of religion do not harmonize with the pure simple teaching of the Word of God.
We know that Jesus will return soon. Of this there is no doubt. The Bible makes this very plain. But how soon? And what happens at that time? Who will see Him? These are questions that deserve an answer. First let us start from the negative side, and expose the old false teachings so many hold to.
We will examine the teaching and then show when and where this teaching originated. Then we will look at the Bible and see what it actually says, letting the Holy Spirit throw divine light on the Word and show how it harmonizes with what God is doing in the earth today.
“THE ESCAPE THEORY”
The word “rapture” does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Yet this word has be associated with the coming of Jesus, and spoken of as the “hope of the Church”. Although this word is not found in the Bible, it is found in the dictionary. Some dictionaries give more definitions and shades of meaning than others, but the dictionary I now have before me says simply “RAPTURE. . . strong feeling that absorbs the mind; very great joy.”
However, to most fundamentalist and Pentecostal people, the word rapture brings to their mind a picture of white robed saints leaving the earth and soaring through the air to a meeting on some clouds somewhere in outer space. This image has been preached evangelistically until many people have come to accept it as gospel fact, without bothering to check and see if that is what the bible actually says.
According to the evangelists, the Trumpet may sound before this meeting is over, or before you wake up in the morning. When that happens, the cemeteries burst open and the dead rise, and those still living go zooming off into space to meet the Lord. The reason for this is, they say, because the Anti-Christ will then appear and the Great Tribulation will begin. And God is far too good to let His people go through such tribulation. The implication is that they are far too weak to survive in the fact of such demonic power. They will then attend the Marriage supper of the Lamb up in Heaven, get their “rewards” for their labors here, and have a wonderful seven years of joy and singing. While their unsaved loved ones, their children who may not have been born again, and the untaught millions of heathen are suffering untold agonies on earth. “Good enough for them”, seems to be the general attitude. “They should have gotten prepared, like me”. This may not be your attitude, and this may not even be the way you see the “rapture”. Even with denominations, there are wide differences of opinions on this subject, ranging from violent “escape-rapture” adherents, to those who are shaky or just don’t know. I have had many Pentecostal preachers to write and say, “Brother Britton, I know my denomination preaches this theory, but I have never gotten a witness to it, and just can’t find it in the Scripture.”
“PRE-TRIB, MID-TRIB, OR POST-TRIB?”
Because we dare to look into the Bible on this glorious subject of His coming, and dare to teach differently than the fundamentalist denominations, some spread the word that we do not believe in the coming of the Lord, or the catching up of the saints. This is not so. We believe in a very real “coming of the Lord”, while the “rapture” people actually believe in the “departure of the saints”. While we teach the “appearing of Jesus”, they teach the “disappearing of the Church”. I will explain more on that later. For those who believe in a geographical removal of the saints from the earth at His coming, there are three basic concepts.
The first is the Pre-Tribulation Rapture. This means that God’s people will be removed from the earth just before tribulation begins. Thus they will not be here for any of the seven years of plagues, vials, etc. Bumper stickers state: “In case of Rapture, this car will self-destruct”. Tracts for airliners say: “In case the Trumpet sounds, be prepared for this plane to crash, your pilot may be a Christian”. These things are designed to generate fear, and in some cases they do. One of the scriptures they use is Revelation 4:1-2 where John heard a voice “as it were of a trumpet talking with me, which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. And immediately I was in the Spirit: and behold a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.” They say John left the Isle of Patmos during this time that he was “in the Spirit”. In fact, in Revelation 1:10 John states that “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, saying, I am Alpha and Omega”. Here he was in the Spirit first, then heard the trumpet. I have heard no one argue that he was a type of the “rapture” here, in Revelation 1.
Another verse they use is in Revelation 3:10, “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” This, they say, proves we are removed from the earth during that time of tribulation. But it actually says no such thing. In fact, verse 9 says the opposite. It tells us that God will bring the enemy down before our feet. We have to be here for that to happen.
“WHEN WILL IT HAPPEN?”
Next we come to the Mid-trib. They believe that the Bible teaches that the Church will have to go through the first three and one half years of the tribulation while Antichrist is warring against the saints, but will be raptured and spared the last three and a half years while God is pouring out the worst judgments upon the earth. They believe this because of the many scriptures that show God bringing His people through great fire and into glorious victory. Yet there are other scriptures which indicate a place of great joy and glory for the Overcomer during this time, so they surmise that God will take them off the earth during the first half. This is a “middle of the road” position, designed as a compromise between two seemingly different concepts in scripture.
Finally there are the “Post-Tribulation” people. They believe that the Church goes through the entire seven years of tribulation (some believe in only three and one half years total), and that only after the tribulation are the saints “caught up”, as according to Thessalonians. They see a Church being empowered by the Spirit to survive the worst onslaughts of Satan. They believe God is able to keep His saints in the midst of the fire, as with the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace. This is an admirable attitude, and much closer to truth than the “Pre-trib” view that was born out of fear and selfishness.
Some think that if the “post-trib” teaching is right, that this would mean seven years of horrible suffering and untold agony for God’s people, and almost total destruction of the Church. But this is not so. A beautiful scripture in Isaiah 26:20-21 shows us that the Lord does not intend for His people to suffer the horrors of the Tribulation. Someone asks if the Church will be here on earth for the Tribulation, and the answer is NO! We will be here DURING the Tribulation, but we will not be here FOR it. While the Day of the Lord is a day of judgment for the wicked, that same Day of the Lord will be a day of glory and power for His anointed people! I intend to be here for the GLORY!
Isaiah says: “Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. For, behold, the Lord cometh out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity:” Now, the pre-tribulation rapture people say that this scripture proves that God will remove His people form this earth during the tribulation. It proves no such thing, and in fact, it says exactly the opposite. We will be here while the wrath of God is being poured out, but it shall not be poured out upon us, for we shall be hid in Christ. We shall be in an Ark of safety, as Noah was. “As it was in the days of Noah”.
ENOCH AND NOAH
Some like to point at Enoch, who was translated that he should not see death, and say that he is a type of those who are raptured before Tribulation. But Enoch did not live during the time that judgment was being poured out on the earth in the form of a flood. Enoch was translated 669 years before the Flood, and never met Noah. In other words, his translation was not for the purpose of helping him escape the flood. Jesus did not say: “As it was in days of Enoch” . . . He said, “As it was in the days of NOAH”. And Noah went through the flood, protected by the Ark he had prepared and entered into. And when the flood was over, and the wicked had been “taken”, he stepped out of the Ark, and inherited the earth. He and his family were the only ones to own the earth now, for everyone else who might have had a deed to a piece of property was gone, along with their heirs. So there was no one left to dispute Noah’s claim. He inherited the earth.
Read Psalms, chapter 37 and see the principle laid down in scripture. Paul never preached that message of fear. He never told the people they would escape the battle. In fact, in Ephesians 6, he urges them to put on the entire spiritual armor of God in order to be ready to face whatever came in the Tribulation. I don’t know how anyone could miss that, but they just seem to ignore it. Let me quote from Ephesians 6:13 to see how plain it really is: “Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand IN THE EVIL DAY, and having done all, TO STAND.” Not fly away, but stand! That’s the gospel Paul preached. That’s the true teaching concerning the Day of the Lord, the Great Tribulation, “that evil day”. We have another message you should read entitled “Day and Night”. If you have not read this booklet yet, send for it. No escape rapture for the Church, but an ark of safety, being girded with the glorious armor of the Spirit. . . truth, faith, the Word of God, etc.
The “escape” that the Bible teaches is found in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” God and His faithful people have always been victorious, and our “hiding place” is in Christ. “Your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3.3). It is the fearful, the faithless, or the wicked, who seek a geographical hiding place. Some want to leave the earth and go somewhere else while some cry for the natural rocks and mountains to hide them. (Revelation 6:15). Today, some are seeking a hiding place in some natural place, a farm, a desert, a foreign country, a wilderness area, etc. but it will not work. It is only another form of “self-rapture”. You cannot escape from the devil or Antichrist that way. Your protection and safety is only in Christ, and in absolute obedience to the Spirit of God. Whether it be on a farm or in the city, in a wilderness area or in a metropolitan center, the hiding place is the same . . . in Christ! Hallelujah! Don’t criticize those who leave the city, or move out of California, or go to a farm somewhere. Perhaps the Spirit has instructed them to do so, and their safety is in their obedience. Don’t criticize those who stay in the city, or refuse to flee form the coastal areas. They may simply be obeying the Spirit also. And this is where their safety lies. Everyone must be led of the Spirit, and not persuaded by someone else that the true doctrine is to “run and hide”.
NOT WHEN, BUT WHAT?
Confused by now? No doubt. For as yet we have only explained the various theories that are being preached about His coming, and given a negative and confusing picture. But hold on. The picture is getting brighter, and clearer. The big hassle about the return of the Lord has mostly been as to the time of it happens . . . Pre, Mid or Post. But the Spirit is speaking expressly these days, not so much as to the time of it, but rather as to what takes place when it happens.
Everyone has assumed that whenever it happens, we will go zooming off the earth into outer space to meet the Lord somewhere in another geographical location. Pictures have been drawn by artists, and distributed by the multiplied thousands, of Jesus standing on a stratocumulus cloud a few thousand feet in the air, while Christians are being lifted out of a village below. Some are a few feet off the ground, others halfway to the cloud, etc. A most unscriptural picture, yet many form their beliefs from this sort of thing, and take it as acceptable gospel truth. Let me give you the history of how this theory got started.
EDWARD IRVING AND MARGARET MACDONALD
Perhaps you have heard of the Irvingite movement, know as the Catholic Apostolic Church. The Encyclopedia Britannica, volume 12, 1966 issue, pages 648-649, describe Edward Irving and the controversy over his teachings in Scotland and England in the early 1800’s. He was excommunicated by the London presbytery, and in 1833 was condemned and deposed from the ministry of the Church of Scotland because of his teaching concerning “the sinfulness of Christ’s humanity”. He also began to teach a “rapture of the Church”, after a young Scottish lass by the name of Margaret MacDonald went into a trance and described a vision in which she said she saw the saints leaving the earth at the return of the Lord, before the tribulation. Her trance and vision took place in the spring of 1830, while living in Port-Glasgow, Scotland. Her “revelation” was recorded in a book written by R.N. Norton and printed in London in 1861. I have a copy of this portion of the book, though it is now out of print and almost impossible to obtain. Prior to this time, the Church, clear back to the Apostles, had always preached that the Church would go victoriously through the tribulation. There is no record of the “escape rapture” theory being preached before 1830. On April 30, 1831, a Mrs. L.B. Cardale, who later joined Irving’s church, had uttered a personal revelation in a home prayer meeting, echoing Margaret MacDonald’s revelation of a pre-tribulation rapture.
It was from this supposed revelation that the modem doctrine and modern phraseology respecting it arose; it came not from Scripture, but from that which falsely pretended to be the Spirit of God. Ed Irving accepted this teaching, and it was taught at prophetic meetings at Powerseouri House in Ireland, attended much by Plymouth Brethren organizer John Dathy. Irving’s views influenced Darby, C.H. Mackintosh, and C.I. Scofield (whose Bible notes popularized the new theory). So it was a young Scottish girl who originated this idea, and is so recorded on page 15 of Norton’s book on the Catholic Apostolic Church, Darby, Scofield, along with Clarence Larkin and his charts began to teach his new theory, and in the early 1900’s it reached a peak in popularity.
When the Holy Spirit was poured out in Pentecostal power at the turn of the century, the Lord emphasized the fact of the nearness of the coming of Christ. But the Pentecostals got no new light at that time on the specific events of ills appearing. They carried over what the non-Pentecostals had been teaching regarding Miss MacDonald’s “revelation”. While in a Pentecostal Bible school in 1947, we used Larkin’s book of charts for a textbook. Along with charts promoting the escape rapture theory I discovered that our “text-book” also had statements in it denouncing the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues in our day as being demon inspired. I was shocked to learn that we were being taught about the coming of the Lord by men who claimed our Pentecostal experience was of the devil! My reaction was to ask, “Why doesn‘t God raise up Spirit filled men who can give us real revelation on prophetic events by the inspiration and enlightenment of the Holy Ghost? Well praise God, He did!”
HE IS REALLY COMING!
So much for the history of the false. Now let us look at the Bible, and see what it really says about what this “catching up” is all about. While many Pentecostal people, churches, and denominations were “dying on the vine”, God was still moving by His Spirit. Hungry, concerned saints began to hear from God in a fresh and glorious way. Half a century after the restoration of the Holy Ghost Baptism and gifts of the Spirit had begun, a fresh outpouring of the Spirit swept across America and around the world. Among the vital truths established through that Move of the Spirit was the fact that the body of Christ was one body, and that divisive denominational systems were not of God. “Come out of her, My people” was the call that went forth. It became clear to many that no man-made ecclesiastical system would accept or contain the great thing that God was preparing to do in the earth. In fact, what God was about to do would be a means of destroying the power of a Babylon and the whole Harlot system. So the Move of God became the worst enemy the denominations had. Let me make a difference between the denominational systems that divide God’s people and the precious people, preachers, and even officials bound up in these systems. God loves those dear people, and so do I. But He hates the Babylonian systems that divide the saints into warring camps and prevent them from progressing into new spiritual truths. . . and SO DO I!
Another wonderful truth that God began to give revelation on was the coming of Christ. First of all, He gave glorious revelation on the mystery of the appearing of “Christ in you, the hope of Glory”. Light began to break on our hearts, from the Scriptures, regarding the sons of God, the Overcomer, the Manchild company, the Army of the Lord, the Melchisedec priesthood, etc. Then the Spirit began to show us that the old rapture theory of escape did not fit in with the very nature of God nor the principles by which He always operated. Back to the Bible we went, to examine again the scriptures we had based this teaching on. Besides the ones I mentioned in the book of Revelation there was 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, Matthew chapter 24, Luke chapter 17, Isaiah 26:20, and others. Other scriptures such as Matthew 25 and the ten virgins, had been twisted all out of shape trying to make them look like they were saying that we had been taken off the earth at the rapture.