The Rapture Question
NCW 32, April 1996 (Part I)
Q. Am I right in believing that the New Covenant belives in the rapture like the Pentecostals?
No, we do not. Most Pentecostals believe that the rapture of all true born-again Christians will take place before the Tribulation (pre-tribulationism). They paint a picture of life going on ordinarily around the world and then, suddenly, and without warning, millions of Christians start "disappearing". This leaves only the luke-warm believers and unbelievers behind. According to them, Christianity is then blamed for all the chaos this creates in the world, Christianity is made illegal, and then the remaining Christians who do not deny Christ are persecuted and murdered. This is the Tribulation period. Then, according to them, Christ returns. For a full treatment of this position, see The Rapture Question by John F. Walvoord (Zondervan, 1979).
New Covenant Christians believe that the rapture and second coming take place simultaneously at the end of the age and at the end of the Tribulation. We believe that Christ's return to the Church and to the world are a single event and not two, as the pre-tribulationists maintain. We do not exclude the possibility that God may selectively take Christians off the earth before this time, for you will remember that whilst the resurrection of the dead takes place during the Millennial era, there were, nonetheless, several resurrections in and around Jerusalem at the time of Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection. We know that the servants of God are translated (or "raptured") from time to time, and we have as examples Enoch and his entire city, and the prophet Elijah.
As a result of the pre-tribulation doctrine of rapture, millions of evangelical Christians are waiting to be suddenly "spirited away" and escape the terrible persecutions that are to come. By contrast, New Covenant Christians are preparing to actually go through the Great Tribulation and, if blessed to survive, to prepare to meet the returning Christ in the air when He comes to judge the world and inaugurate the Thousand Year Kingdom of Peace.
Many scriptures have been misunderstood by the pre-tribulationists which need explaining clearly. Take 1 Cor.15:51-52 which describes how the saints are transformed in the "twinking of an eye". This passage has to do with the resurrection during the Millennium, and not the so-called "rapture".
Another popularly used scripure is 1 Thes.4:16-17: "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; 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 our Lord" (RSV). This is also a resurrection scene which can only be at the beginning of the Millennium. As Christ returns with the sound of the trumpet, so shall the first resurrections commence. At the same time, those who are still alive (after the Great Tribulation) will be raptured into the air to meet Him as He returns to establish His millennial kingdom on the earth. We are not being taken to another world but are rather going out to meet the Bridegroom on a bridal procession whose temporal end is the earth, which is itself to become "another world"!
Another misunderstood (even misused) scripture is 2 Thes.2:3-4 which says: "Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day [of the Lord's Second Coming] will not come, unless the rebellion ["falling away"/"apostacy"] comes first, and the man of lawlessness [Antichrist] is revealed, the son of perdition" (RSV). This has been twisted by many evangelical scholars to say "except the departure ["from the earth"] come first" which does violence to the Greek text and context and which is supported by no Bible translations that I have been able to find.
The "rapture doctrine" -- at least, the pre-tribulation version -- is closely connected with the evangelical doctrine of "grace alone" and their idea of a uniform (ungraded) heaven. There is no doctrine of "refinement by fire" in evangelical thinking. For us New Covenant Christians, horrific though the tribulation will be, to be a part of it is a blessing not to be shunned. That is not to say that we are "martyrdom-seekers" but it is to say that we are prepared for that. We also believe that there will be cities of refuge during the Tribulation where several thousand Christians will dwell safely during this terrible period.
We New Covenant Christians will not be found sitting around waiting to be whisked into heaven "by grace" but will continue living our their faith to their best of our ability "through grace" in preparation for whatever may come. The Jehovah's Witnesses misunderstood this doctrine too and even prophesied the exact date of the "rapture". Their white-clad followers were left disappointed on the expected day. Let us not be ashamed as they were by following after unscriptural doctrines of the rapture that have current vogue with evangelical Christians.
This page was created on 9 May 1998
Last updated on 9 May 1998
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