As a sixteen year old boy, the thing that drew me back into church more than anything else was the study of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus plainly said to His disciples these words before He died,
“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also”
Here was a reason, a cause if you will, that I could put my whole self into. Not just that I was going to go to heaven when I died, or that Jesus was with me wherever I might go, but that the same person Who came to earth two thousand years ago was going to appear the second time, and that He would cause me immediately to rise to see Him, and be with Him forever more! I might not make it through algebra class the next day. I could be taken to see Him at any moment. I’m sure I was a happy addition to the youth group. I attended a public high school some forty miles away. I was highly involved there and well known through sports and other things. But this was going to change my life. I had been saved when I was eleven but our family, being so far from a good church, didn’t attend very much during my early teenage years. For the last two years of high school, however, I would be a Christian on fire for God.
I remember that I loved those line graphs that the Sunday School teacher would put on the board when explaining prophecy (this was a church of thousands and there were no youth pastors in those days). Maybe that’s because I did much better in geometry than in algebra, but I still use those lines and graphs and charts whenever I have a surface to write on. “Here is the cross, then a long space for the church age, then a reverse arrow for the rapture, then a double three and a half years for the tribulation, then the big arrow coming down to earth, followed by a large space for a thousand years. At the very end is a chair-like thing which will represent the White Throne Judgment.” I think I have reproduced that line graph a thousand times.
I found that the expectation of an imminent return of Christ will motivate the believer to worship (Heb. 10:25); to holiness (1 Jn. 3:3); to duty (1 Cor. 15:58); to ministry (2 Tim. 4:1-3); to consolation (1 Thes. 4:18); and to endurance (Rev. 3:11). I also found that it encouraged me in witnessing to my high school friends. There is nothing so attractive about our faith as an enthusiastic faith. Imagine a teenager telling a friend at the lunch table not to worry if he disappeared before they were done eating! “If I do, here is a tract that will tell you where I went.”
Of course, I was also in for various disappointments. Not everyone else was as excited about the doctrine as I was. Even my mother, the English teacher at the school, had to throw some cold water on my enthusiasm now and then. This was in the sixties and teenagers were being pressured in many ways besides religion and morality. My Catholic coach rolled his eyes when he found me sitting around the whirlpool with some other guys reading about Jonah and the whale. He later became a good life-long friend. I saw many of my classmates make professions of faith and soon realized that not all of them would follow through on those verbal commitments. I had a hard time understanding that.
I remember many Bible conferences at our church by many well-known preachers, but I always loved the prophecy conferences best. There seemed to be an excitement in those days about the coming of Christ that has waned a lot over the years.
Like many doctrines in the Bible, the truth about the Rapture does not appear all at once. Revelation about it was given progressively through the first century as the New Testament was being written by inspired writers.
The fact about the Father’s house
The words of Jesus the night before He died (John 14:1-3) were spoken about AD 32 and not written down until almost AD 90. However, the apostles were the first hearers so they had first-hand knowledge of what was said. The events revolving around the coming of Messiah and the resurrection of the dead were known from the Old Testament prophets. What was new to the disciple’s ears was that He was going away and yet would come back to get them, that they could be where He was going.
How many times have we quoted, “let not your hearts be troubled?” Yet we seem to live a life of trouble and worry. We are afraid the government won’t do right, or that the culture will get worse and worse, or that apostasy in the church will grow—all of which will happen the closer we get to the great promise of rapture. Rather than being troubled, we ought to be expecting to see the Lord at any moment.
“Ye believe in God, believe also in me.” What further proof of the deity of Jesus Christ do we need than that? Who would say a thing like that who was not either crazy or truly equal to God? “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” Many good expositors understand “the Father’s house” to be the same as the New Jerusalem described in Revelation 21.1 John saw the city descending from God out of heaven, where it evidently had been dwelling. If this four-square city is truly the Father’s house, which it seems to be, its approximate 6000 mile circumference would cover half of the United States, just for one city! Plenty of room for “many mansions” regardless of how one may want to describe the “dwelling places.” I’ve never tired of singing “I’ve got a mansion, just over the hilltop,” and precisely because the song is old and takes me back to a time of more direct application of the Scripture to prophetic things.
The promise is that Jesus will come again and receive His church to Himself and take us to the Father’s house. No other detail of how and when was given at that time. It would not be for another twenty years until Paul would receive further revelation.
Those who will go to the Father’s house
Paul was on his second missionary journey in the city of Corinth, recorded in Acts 18:1-17, when he would be inspired to write a letter to the Thessalonian church, about AD 52. He had just been in Thessalonica for three weeks (Acts 17:1-9) and had taught them concerning the coming of Christ. They seemed, however, to have a question. When Christ comes to receive believers unto Himself, what will happen to those brethren who have died? Will they miss it. Will they be taken later? The great passage in 1 Thes. 4:13-18 answers that question.
Paul uses the great euphemism that Jesus introduced at the grave of Lazarus: “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth, but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep” (John 11:11). Paul wrote, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep . . . Them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him . . . We which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent (lit. precede) them which are asleep.” This is not some soul sleep as some have suggested. No one who has died, saved or lost, is in an unconscious state. The rich man died and was buried, “and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments” (Luke 16:23). On the other hand, for the believer, “to be absent from the body to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). This is the sleep of the body only, until at resurrection it is reunited with the spirit. Paul said that the believers who have died already, would be resurrected just prior to when the living believers will be “caught up” and then they will all rise to meet the Lord in the air. This is the clearest teaching on the Rapture to this point.
In verse 14, “Those who sleep in Jesus” is literally “through Jesus (dia).” If you have died with previous faith in God through the Lord Jesus Christ, your body will rise at that time. Then again, in verse 16, “the dead in Christ (en)” refers to the fact that all Christians from Pentecost to the Rapture are “in Christ” by virtue of Spirit Baptism and will rise as His bride. “Shall rise first” (vs. 16) means literally “to stand up.” Imagine being the lawn mower in the cemetery when the trumpet sounds! But, actually, we find later in 1 Corinthians that all of this happens in the twinkling of an eye.
When will believers go to the Father’s house?
Paul remained in Corinth long enough to hear that the Thessalonians were being taught that they had already missed the Rapture. He immediately wrote to them again, the book of Second Thessalonians. It is amazing that there were those among the churches so early in its history who were pretending to write Scripture like the apostles. In 2 Thes. 2:1-12 Paul tells them not to be shaken in their minds or troubled, “neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, that the day of Christ (lit. “the Lord”) is at hand” (vs. 2). They had been taught that they were already in the tribulation period, that the “Day of the Lord” was “at hand” (lit. already begun).
Paul had a quick and easy answer to their fears, “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition” (vs. 3). The Day of the Lord cannot begin until two things (mentioned in this verse) happen first. The first is the “falling away” or “apostasy.” Pretribulationalists (I was a happy teenager when I learned I was one of these) take this to be one of two things. Most take this to be a falling away from the faith in the latter days just prior to the coming of Christ (see 1 Tim. 4:1, 2 Tim. 3:1). Very few would deny that such sinful days will come and most of us think we are seeing them already. Some others take the word “apostasy” to mean “a departure” which the word often means in Scripture.2 If this is the case, this is a definite reference to the rapture and an absolute proof for a pretribulational rapture. I happen to agree with this but either view explained here maintains a pretribulational rapture.
The second thing that will happen before the Day of the Lord begins is the revealing of the antichrist. Daniel predicted that in Dan. 9:27, describing the tribulation period officially beginning when the antichrist signs a peace treaty with Israel. There obviously was no such treaty signed in AD 52. Israel was being scattered and the “Times of the Gentiles” were in full swing.
In vss. 6-7 Paul adds a third reason why the church cannot enter the tribulation period. The Holy Spirit, the “Withholder,” will be taken out of the way before that time begins. Of course, the Holy Spirit indwells the church and if the church is taken out, the Holy Spirit goes with her. Myron Houghton sees this, and the following verses, as a restatement of the first two reasons (departure of the church and revealing of the antichrist).3
The point of 2 Thes. 2:1-12 is that the rapture is imminent, meaning that it could happen at any moment. The Tribulation Period is not imminent because these two (or three) things must happen before it begins. This and one more important fact about the rapture was made known to the church a little later in Paul’s life.
How will believers go to the Father’s House?
Paul returned to Jerusalem after his second missionary journey but did not stay long. He immediately left on his third and final journey spending over two years in Ephesus in about AD 54-55 (Acts 19:1-41). The major challenge he faced on this journey was the trouble in the church at Corinth and Paul wrote two letters to them on this third journey. Part of their trouble was their misunderstanding of the resurrection and Paul devoted a long chapter to that doctrine. At the end of that chapter he turned his attention to the subject of the rapture (1 Cor. 15:51-58).
He began by writing, “Behold, I show you a mystery, we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed” (vs. 51). This is a profound statement! Jesus told us we would go to the Father’s house with him; Paul told the Thessalonians that the dead would go when the living go; and he told them that this must happen before the Tribulation Period; but now he also explains that “all” believers, dead or living, will be changed into an existence fit for the Father’s house. This, Paul says, is a “mystery,” something true but not yet made known. They knew what change resurrection entailed for deceased believers, but no one knew yet what change rapture entailed for the living believers.
Since, “we shall not all sleep,” or die, before the rapture happens, living believers will be taken directly to the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, then on to heaven. Now, I once jumped out of an airplane with a parachute, but that’s as high as I want to go without some supernatural help. Paul said, “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” The raptured saints will be “changed” exactly as the resurrected saints will be, so that we can all live in the Father’s house. We will be there for seven years and then return with Christ to reign with Him for a thousand years. It seems probable that the Father’s house, the New Jerusalem, will be above the earth during that time and accessible to those of us who are in incorruptible and immortal bodies. In this way, death is truly “swallowed up in victory” and that victory is “through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
And So . . .
I have often heard or read of an old Civil War illustration that someone observed long ago. In a snowy camp, some soldiers were sleeping, covered with a perfect blanket of white snow. Others were walking around with snow on their head and shoulders. Suddenly, a trumpet sounded and every soldier jumped into action. Those who were sleeping quickly stood up with those who were on guard, while all shake off the snow and then run after their commander—A unique picture of the resurrection/rapture that will take place when the last trump sounds!
The word “sleep” comes from the word koima?from which we get our word “cemetery.” A grave yard is like a dormitory with many sleepers. When the morning bell sounds, all will have to rise. Scripture explains that there is a first and second resurrection (Dan. 12:2). “Marvel not at this for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice. And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-29). Only faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will make one qualified for the first resurrection. And who knows, we could hear the shout and the trumpet before we even sleep!
“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
Jesus may come today, Glad day! Glad day!
And I would see my Friend; Dangers and troubles would end,
If Jesus should come today.
Notes: 1. See J. Dwight Pentecost, Things To Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1969) 575. Also, John Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974) 312. 2. Such writers are E. Schuyler English, Leon Wood, Kenneth Wuest, Myron Houghton, J. Vernon McGee. Dwight Pentecost says it is “possible” (Things To Come, 332) and John Walvoord says if true, it would “definitely place the rapture before the tribulation” (The Thessalonian Epistles, p. 119). See my March, 2012 Aletheia article supporting this view. 3. Myron Houghton, “The Rapture in 2 Th. 2:1-10” in The Faith Pulpit, April, 2002.