As I was listening, the preacher commented that we could be raptured at any moment even before the sermon was finished. The popular teaching today in many evangelical churches is that Christians will be raptured at any moment. There is nothing that has to take place before the rapture can occur. Only after the rapture will the prophetic clock begin to tick again. The church is now awaiting an “any moment rapture” when it will be whisked out of the way and then the great tribulation will take place after the Christians leave. Is this very popular teaching true to the Scriptures? That is what we want to answer in this article.
The New Testament points toward the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. This is an event that every Christian should look forward to. For example, we read in 1 Corinthians 1:7 – “Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.” We also read in Philippians 3:20-21 – “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” These two passages and several others in the New Testament tell us to look forward to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ with great expectation. It is an event that will surely occur and at that time we will receive a new body at the resurrection. This is our hope and we believe it and know it is so.
The New Testament also teaches us to always be ready for the Lord to return. We know the Lord will return to us in two ways. The first way He will return to us is when we die. We must not overlook this. This is the way the Lord will return first to most of us if not all. We should always be ready for the Lord’s coming to us at death. The second way the Lord will return to us is at the Second Coming at the end of the world. If He were to return today, we should be ready for His Coming. There are several passages of scripture that talk of being ready for the Lord’s coming. One of these is Mark 13:32-37 which says, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house in charge of his servants, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” This passage certainly teaches us to be ready at all times for the Lord’s coming which could apply to His coming for us at death or His Second Coming. Although in the context of this particular passage, the Second Coming seems to be in view. A similar passage is found in Matthew 24:42-44 which says, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” This scripture could apply again to His coming for us at death or to His Second Coming although the context seems to be talking about the Second Coming. The application to most if not all of us is to be ready at death for the coming of the Lord for us just as we should be ready at all times for the Second Coming.
The New Testament tells us that we are living in the presence of the Lord and that we should always realize that we will all stand before Him when He comes. Therefore, we should live our lives in such a way that we are always ready to face Him when He comes. James 5:7-9 brings this out very clearly, “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the fall and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” The idea here is that we are living in the presence of the Lord now and the Judgement Day, when we will be held accountable, is even at the door. So, we should be careful how we live.
Another passage gives us this sense of living in the presence of the coming Lord as if His Second Coming is upon us. We should live in the light of that day knowing that what we do here now is in anticipation of that Day. We read in 2 Timothy 4:1-2 – “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.” Paul exhorts Timothy to do his ministry in the light of the Second Coming. He is now in the presence of the Lord and will face Him soon when He comes back. So, here we have again this sense of living in anticipation of the Lord’s return and living in such a way knowing that we will have to give an account before the Lord when He returns.
Yet, having seen that we are to live in the light of the Second Coming, it is at death that most if not all of us will face the Lord. Death can come to us suddenly and we should always be ready to meet the Lord when that time comes. The Lord may take our life at a time when we would not expect it. That’s why we need always to live in such a way that we are ready for that day. This is brought out in the Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12:16-21 – “And he told them this parable: The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” The rich man was not ready for his death. He was not ready to meet God. Yet, he would die and have to face the Lord.
The “any moment rapture” teaching seems to ignore the fact that death will meet most if not all of us before the Lord returns. Both Paul and Peter mention their impending deaths. They don’t seem to believe in an “any moment rapture.” Both expected to die. Paul writes in Philippians 1:20-24, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” Paul writes as if he expected one day to die. He does not mention the possibility of an “any moment rapture” that would save him from death. This is even more evident in what he says in 2 Timothy 4:6-7 – “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Paul seems to anticipate his death coming soon. He makes no mention of even the possibility that he could be raptured and not die. Peter also mentions his impending time of death in 2 Peter 1:13-15 – “I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.” Peter seems to know that he will die soon. He had no belief in an “any moment rapture.” The Lord had even already told him that one day he would die. Both Paul and Peter exhibit no knowledge of expecting an “any moment rapture” especially for themselves or any other Christian. They both expected to die.
Paul believed in the resurrection at the end of the age and he believed that those living then at that time would be changed and rise up together with those who had already died to meet the Lord in the air. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-52) Yet this modern idea of an “any moment rapture” is not something that Paul seems to have taught. He expected to die. He looked forward to the resurrection at the end of the age.
Paul warns the Thessalonians to be careful of teachings that tell them that the Day of the Lord had already come or that it was imminent or impending. He says in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 – “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.” There was a teaching going around that was saying that the Day of the Lord had already come. This could be interpreted as saying that the time for the Lord’s Second Coming was at hand or was imminent. His coming could be at any moment since the Day had arrived. Leon Morris writes, “The verb does not really mean ‘to be at hand,’ but rather ‘to be present.’…To say that the day of the Lord had come did not mean that it was completed, and that all the glorious events associated with it had occurred. That was so obviously untrue that it needs no refutation. What it did mean was that that day had dawned. They were even then living in it. This being so, the climax must infallibly be reached, and that within a very short space of time. We can easily picture the effect such news would have on those who were not well grounded in the Christian faith, and who were given to excitability. Paul proceeds to show the complete falsity of such an idea.” (The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, pp. 216-217)
John Calvin comments on 2 Thessalonians 2;2 saying, “’As that the day of the Lord is now present’ – This appears to contradict many passages of Scripture in which the Spirit declares that that day is at hand. But the solution is easy. It is at hand in regard to God, with whom one day is as a thousand years (2 Peter 3:8). In the meantime the Lord would have us keep in constant watch for Him in such a way as not to limit Him in any way to a particular time. ‘Watch,’ He says, ‘for ye know not the day nor the hour’ (Mt. 25:13). The false prophets on the other hand, who are refuted by Paul, were bidding men feel assured of His speedy advent, so that they might not be wearied by a burdensome delay, when they ought to have kept men’s minds in suspense.” (Commentary on 2 Thessalonians, p. 398) We should always watch for His Coming and be ready. Yet, that day has not come as yet.
Paul tells the Thessalonians that the Second Coming of Christ and our being gathered to him at that time will not come before a rebellion or falling away occurs and the man of lawlessness or man of sin is revealed. Paul definitely rules out an “any moment rapture” when he points to an event that must take place before Jesus returns. There are different interpretations on what this “falling away” is or who the “man of lawlessness” or “man of sin” will be. I don’t want to get more into the meaning of these expressions at this point. All we want to do is to point out that Paul explicitly says that certain events must take place before the Second Coming and our being gathered to the Lord will occur. That would seem to rule out an “any moment rapture.”
The word “rapture” is not found in the Bible. What we look forward to is the resurrection from the dead and our being gathered up to be with the Lord on that Day. We don’t know how long it will be before that day will occur. We know it will be at the end of the age. It seems that there are events that yet need to take place before that day comes. Most of us if not all of us will face death before the Second Coming takes place and it is foremost that we be ready for that day.
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (1978) unless indicated otherwise.
Calvin, John. Calvin’s Commentaries, The Epistles of Paul to the Romans and Thessalonians, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1973.
Morris, Leon. The New International Commentary on the New Testament, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians,.William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1959.
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