Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Date: 11 March 2012

For more sermons and other writings check the following homepage: www.livinggracetoowoomba.org

 

Revelation 03 – Rapturous Future

 

Show video of Bob Jones’ testimony about his prophecy of one billion youth coming to Jesus in a harvest of souls that may begin soon. [See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jGD_OimVazg.] How does this video make you feel? Possible answers (get answers from the congregation): Encouraged, overwhelmed, convicted about the question: “Have you learned to love”, confronted by the reality of hell, becoming expectant about the future, joyful ...

 

Show pictureRapture Indexand ask the congregation whether they can interpret the picture. What is a “rapture index” and what is it for? Possible answers (get answers from the congregation): Bad news make different categories (e.g.: occult, unemployment, wars, floods, food supply, moral standards, financial unrest, drought) rate higher than good news and the expectation is that the more bad news can be recorded the sooner the event that is called “Rapture” will take place. History will go from bad to worse until life on earth becomes so intolerable that God rescues his church from the worst of it. Christians – wherever they are and whatever they may be doing – will be “beamed up” to God. There is the weird sensation of rejoicing and focusing on bad news. There is a feeling of disengagement in shaping the world because life on earth is doomed. This is depressing ...

 

Show more pictures: Picture 1 – Ascending People; Picture 2 – Ascending People At Night; Picture 3 – Dog On His Own With Clothes Of Christian Owner; Picture 4 – Cartoon About Disengagement.

 

In the Christian church today, there are these two competing views about the future. Will this world experience breakthroughs in God’s glory and celebrate victories in the kingdom of God or will this world slide into ever-increasing catastrophes and gloom which will necessitate a last-minute rescue of the church from a world that is getting swallowed up by suffering and evil.

TheRapturesounds like fun – a great experience – and certainly lines up with commonplace wishful thinking. When you are stretched to the limit – who doesn’t want an early escape from trouble? However, how is that going to impact on your resolve to overcome problems and what is the Bible saying? This morning, I will try not to overload you with complex arguments – (I did that over the last two Sundays) – but give you enough information to judge the Bible evidence for yourself.

First of all, is there going to be a Rapture? What exactly is the Rapture and when was it first taught in the church?

 

From http://www.angelfire.com/mi/Malkaynu/rapture.html: To many it is both amazing and shocking to discover that neither the word rapture nor the doctrine/teaching of a “secret rapture” is to be found in any Bible translation. Moreover, it is not even mentioned in any “Christian” literature prior to the year 1830.

Dave MacPherson, author of “The Unbelievable Pre-Trib Origin”, reveals that the “rapture” teaching was born in England during the mid-1800’s. MacPherson’s research found that a Church of Scotland minister, named Edward Irving, was the first to preach the “rapture gospel”.

Just how the “rapture” theory occurred to Irving is an intriguing facet of modern . history. Irving held ... positions on the use of “spiritual” gifts, including speaking in tongues and prophesying. He contended that these gifts were for the present day “church”, and had quite a few followers of his . notions. However, when . disturbances arose in Irving’s services during the manifestations of these “gifts”, the Church of Scotland took action, dismissing Irving from his position as minister in 1832.

The ultimate result of Irving’s dismissal was the formation of the Catholic Apostolic Church, which still exists until this day. Irving’s movement grew and became the basis of modern day Pentecostalism ...

However, in 1830 during one of Irving’s sessions before his dismissal, a young Scottish girl, named Margaret MacDonald, fell into a “trance”. After several hours of “vision” and “prophesying” she revealed that “Christ’s” return would occur in two phases, not just one. “Christ” would first come visibly to only the righteous, then He would come a second time to execute wrath on the unrighteous in the nations.

This “secret rapture” was promoted by Irving claiming he, too, had heard a “voice” from heaven commanding him to teach it. (Some modern researchers submit that Irving’s speculations of the “rapture” were influenced by the Spanish Jesuit priest Lacunza whose book Irving had translated in 1827 under the title, The coming of the Messiah in Glory and Majesty)

John Darby, an Englishman and pioneer of the “Plymouth Brethren” movement became caught up in the rapture philosophies of Irving. When Darby heard about Irving’s activities, he travelled to Scotland to talk with Irving and his followers about the “secret rapture”. It was Darby who became the master developer of “scriptural” arguments to support the theory/doctrine that evolved.

Darby’s development of the “rapture” theory has since become widely popularized in Britain and finally in the U.S., largely as a result of Cyrus Scofield’s notes in his Scofield Reference Bible.

Belief in the “secret rapture” doctrine has become so widespread among today’s “evangelicals” and “fundamentalists” that many sitting in the pews assume that the teaching dates back to the apostles themselves and the Messiah. Regardless of whom one regards as the originator of the teaching — whether Irving, Darby, Margaret MacDonald, or a Jesuit priest – one thing is obvious; the “secret rapture” theory is of relatively recent origin ... [1]

 

Therefore – while scholars are not quite unanimous about the precise origin of the Rapture theory – there is solid agreement that this teaching arose late in history – in the mid-1800s – which means that – for the first 1800 years of Christianity – the church did not find the teaching of a Rapture (before any end-time tribulation) in the Bible. When I researched this topic in more depth – in preparation of today’s message – I was also surprised that the proponents of the Rapture are divided in their views. These are the dominant theories: Show picture (rapture theories diagram).

According to the different camps – the Rapture takes place either 1) before an end-time tribulation, 2) in the midst of an end-time tribulation, 3) after an end-time tribulation or 4) there is an ongoing partial Rapture throughout an end-time tribulation.

Without any further ado – please judge for yourself what the Bible evidence is saying to you. Since we are studying the book of Revelation, we begin by looking at Revelation 3:10-11 which seems to be the most important and most widely discussed reference to the Rapture in Revelation. One scholar writes: “If there is a ‘proof text’ for the “pretribulational” position, it is Revelation 3:10” (David Winfrey).[2]

 

Revelation 3:8-11: [To the ... church in Philadelphia write:] ... I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name ... Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.

 

Do these verses spell out any Rapture theory? What are they saying? (Allow answers from the congregation.) These verses applied to the church in Philadelphia which received a specific word for their times – almost 2000 years ago. Since they had been enduring persecution patiently and – according to Jesus’ own words – had little strength left, Jesus spared them from the more widespread persecution which was to come upon the earth (while they were still weak) – Revelation 3:8: “ ... I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.Other congregations – like the church in Smyrna – would not be spared – Revelation 2:10: “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.

Jesus promised to keep the Christians in Philadelphia from thehour of trialbut did not say anything aboutrapturingthem – let alone “rapturing” all Christians in the world. It seems that Jesus promised the Christians in Philadelphia special protection from more persecution because they were weak now and weary from ongoing abuse. Jesus encouraged these suffering Christians who were alive then; therefore – at least in these verses – did not seem to address future challenges such as an end-time tribulation.

 

The only place where the Bible mentions a “great tribulation” is in Revelation 7:14. I will quote a few verses:

 

Revelation 7:9-17: After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude [in heaven] that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands ... Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who are coming out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore ... never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst ... And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

 

Do these verses suggest a Rapture? There is no Rapture mentioned. People are usually coming out of current tribulations through natural death or martyrdom. The emphasis on God wiping away their every tear seems to suggest that these saints did shed tears in the persecution of the great tribulation.

 

Now we look at some other Bible texts which are not in the book of Revelation. I give you the two most important proof texts: Matthew 24:37-42 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

 

Matthew 24:37-42: As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.

 

How do you understand these verses? What are they saying?

 

From http://www.soundwitness.org/evangel/will_you_be_left_behind.htm: Left Behind takes its title from two passages in the Bible, Luke 17:34-35 and Matt. 24:40-41, where Jesus says: “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.”

In the opening pages of Left Behind, three of the main characters are on an airplane, when, suddenly, half of the passengers disappear. (Fortunately for the remaining passengers, the pilot is a pagan.) Meanwhile, traffic on the roads comes to a standstill, as Christian drivers simply vanish.

The authors of Left Behind take for granted that the “one taken” is a believer and the “one left” is an unbeliever. In Matthew 24 and Luke 17, Jesus does not expressly identify which is which. However, the immediate context of the verses in Matthew 24 suggests that the “Left Behind” books have it entirely backwards!

In the verses immediately preceding the passage, “One will be taken and the other left,” Jesus draws an analogy to the days of Noah (Matt. 24:38 - 39). In the example, the ones who are removed from the earth are the men and women who were destroyed in the Flood – “and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away.” The ones who are left are Noah and his family.

Immediately following Matt. 24:40-41, Jesus draws another analogy, this time to a householder whose house is invaded by a thief. Again, the illustration depends on the assumption that having one’s belongings “taken” is a bad thing. Thus, having one's house “left” is a good thing (Matt. 24:43).

The word for “taken” in the original Greek of Matt. 24:40-41 and Luke 17:34-35 can also be used to mean “seized” or “taken prisoner”. For instance, Jesus is “taken” by the soldiers prior to His crucifixion (Matt. 27:27). Moreover, the word for “left” is often used in the Bible to mean “to pardon” or “to forgive.” The same verb is used in the Lord's Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matt. 6:12; Luke 11:4).

Given the immediate context and the different meanings possible for the words “taken” and “left,” a strong case could be made that when Jesus refers to the “one taken” he speaks of those who will be judged at the Second Corning. Those who are “left,” then, are those who are forgiven and receive eternal life. Thus, the fundamental premise of Left Behind is based on a questionable interpretation of Scripture.

 

Now we come to the most important Bible text for any Rapture theory. This is the only Bible reading which actually contains the wordto rapture”.

 

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18: Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

 

What about these verses? What event do they describe? What kind of thinking and worry do they address?

 

From http://www.soundwitness.org/evangel/will_you_be_left_behind.htm: The other main text on which the premise of the “Left Behind” books is based is 1 Thessalonians 4: 16-17: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

The phrase “caught up” is the Biblical basis for the concept of “rapture”. One of the most glaring problems with the “Left Behind” scenario is that the “Rapture” is presented as a secret. The people who are “Left Behind” have no idea what has happened. But in both 1 Thessalonians 4 ... Christ’s return is described as visible and audible: “with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God” (1 Thessalonians 4:16) ...

The authors of “Left Behind” also ignore the Lord’s coming down (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Why do they suppose that Christ will change directions once Christians meet Him in the air? ... In other words, Jesus continues to descend.

Christians who read Left Behind or who have seen the movie of the same name should keep in mind that Holy Scripture nowhere suggests that there will be multiple days of judgment. There will be one final Day of Judgment on which Christ will return once and for all to judge both the living and the dead (Matthew 13:40-43; 25:31-32; 2 Peter 3:7) ...

 

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is not about any kind of Rapture before any kind of end-time tribulation but these verses assure Christians that those that have already died will not miss out on the return of Jesus and eternal life. These verses describe the final return of Jesus, the immediate resurrection of the dead (their dead bodies receiving resurrection bodies) and the living Christians also joining their returning Lord. This is the end-time coming of Jesus who is going to judge the living and the dead and who is establishing a new heaven and a new earth.

Further Bible reasons speak against any kind of Rapture which would spare Christians from persecution. According to the Bible – the worst tribulation and distress has already happened and Christians endured this season:

 

Luke 21:5-33: Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”

He replied: “ ... When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city ... How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people ... Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled ... Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened ...”

 

Matthew 24:1-2: “Jesus left the temple ... “Do you see all these things? ... Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” Matthew 24:15-35: “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains ... How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers ... there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equalled again.

If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened ... Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened ... ” 

 

Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem – which was to happen in 70 AD – and this time was to bring great distressunequalled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equalled again”. The Christians would also have to endure this time. Jesus encouraged them to flee and promised them that for their sake those days would be shortened but – nevertheless – this generation would certainly not pass away until all these things had happened. Today, we know that in history there have been greater tragedies in terms of quantity (e.g.: greater numbers of dead people and more widespread destruction) but – according to the Bible – there have not been greater tragedies in the quality and intensity of suffering. Thus, you could say that the worst is already behind us. [Again, this is pointing to the importance of Jerusalem in salvation history.]

 

Bible scholar Ray C. Stedman comments on the predictions of Jesus and their fulfillment in history a few years later:

In Luke 21:20 we have other details of this predicted overthrow of the city and the Temple. There Jesus adds, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.” Forty years later the Roman armies under Titus came in and fulfilled the prediction to the very letter. With Titus was a Jewish historian named Josephus who recorded the terrible story in minute detail. It was one of the most ghastly sieges in all history. When the Romans came the city was divided among three warring factions of Jews who were so at each others' throats that they paid no heed to the approach of the Romans. Thus Titus came up and surrounded the city while it was distracted by its own internecine warfare. The Romans assaulted the walls again and again, and gave every opportunity to the Jews to surrender and save their capital from destruction.

During the long siege a terrible famine raged in the city and the bodies of the inhabitants were literally stacked like cordwood in the streets. Mothers ate their children to preserve their own strength. The toll of Jewish suffering was horrible but they would not surrender the city. Again and again they attempted to trick the Romans through guile and perfidy. When at last the walls were breached Titus tried to preserve the Temple by giving orders to his soldiers not to destroy or burn it. But the anger of the soldiers against the Jews was so intense that, maddened by the resistance they encountered, they disobeyed the order of their general and set fire to the Temple. There were great quantities of gold and silver there which had been placed in the Temple for safekeeping. This melted and ran down between the rocks and into the cracks of the stones. When the soldiers captured the Temple area, in their greed to obtain this gold and silver they took long bars and pried apart the massive stones. Thus, quite literally, not one stone was left standing upon another. The Temple itself was totally destroyed, though the wall supporting the area upon which the Temple was built was left partially intact and a portion of it remains to this day, called the Western Wall.

Flavius Josephus also recorded ... While the Temple was on fire and there was tremendous looting, killing and rape many rushed to the Temple to die rather than become Roman slaves ...

 

C. H. Spurgeon: “The destruction of Jerusalem was more terrible than anything that the world has ever witnessed, either before or since. Even Titus seemed to see in his cruel work the hand of an avenging God.”

 

Dr. D.A. Carson (1984): “There have been greater number of deaths – six million in the Nazi death camps, mostly Jews, and an estimated twenty million under Stalin – but never so high a percentage of a great city’s population so thoroughly and painfully exterminated and enslaved as during the fall of Jerusalem” (“Matthew”, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, gen. ed Frank E. Gaebelein, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984. 8:501).

 

Josephus, in describing it, uses almost the very words of our Saviour. “All the calamities, says he, which had befallen any nation from the beginning of the world” were but small in comparison with those of the Jews. - Jewish Wars, b. i. preface, section 4.

He has given the following account of one part of the massacre when the city was taken: “And now, rushing into the city, they slew whomsoever they found, without distinction, and burned the houses and all the people who had fled into them; and when they entered for the sake of plunder, they found whole families of dead persons, and houses full of carcasses destroyed by famine, then they came out with their hands empty. And though they thus pitied the dead, they had not the same emotion for the living, but killed all they met, whereby they filled the lanes with dead bodies. “The whole city ran with blood,” insomuch that many things which were burning were extinguished by the blood.” - “Jewish Wars,” b. 6 chapter 8, section 5; chapter 9, section 2, 3. He adds that in the siege of Jerusalem not fewer than “eleven hundred thousand” perished (Jewish Wars, b. 6 chapter 9, section 3) - a number almost half as great as are in the whole city of London. In the adjacent provinces no fewer than “two hundred and fifty thousand” are reckoned to have been slain; making in all whose deaths were ascertained the almost incredible number of “one million three hundred and fifty thousand” who were put to death.

These were not, indeed, all slain with the sword. Many were crucified. “Many hundreds,” says Josephus (“Jewish Wars,” b. v. chapter 11, section 1), “were first whipped, then tormented with various kinds of tortures, and finally crucified; the Roman soldiers nailing them (out of the wrath and hatred they bore to the Jews), one after one way and another after another, to crosses, “by way of jest,” until at length the multitude became so great that room was lacking for crosses, and crosses for the bodies.” ... If it be asked how it was possible for so many people to be slain in a single city, it is to be remembered that the siege of Jerusalem commenced during the time of the Passover, when all the males of the Jews were required to be there, and when it is estimated that more than “three million” were usually assembled. See Josephus, Jewish Wars, b. 6 chapter 9, section 3, 4.

A horrible instance of the distress of Jerusalem is related by Josephus. The famine during the siege became so great that they ate what the most sordid animals refused to touch. A woman of distinguished rank, having been plundered by the soldiers, in hunger, rage, and despair, killed and roasted her own babe, and had eaten one half of it before the deed was discovered. - Jewish Wars, b. 6 chapter 3, section 3, 4. This cruel and dreadful act was also in fulfillment of prophecy, Deuteronomy 28:53, Deuteronomy 28:56-57.

Another thing added by Luke Luk 21:24, was, that “they should be led away captive into all nations.” Josephus informs us that the captives taken during the whole war amounted to “ninety-seven thousand.” The tall and handsome young men Titus reserved for triumph; of the rest, many were distributed through the Roman provinces to be destroyed by wild beasts in theaters; many were sent to the works in Egypt; many, especially those under seventeen years of age, were sold for slaves. - Jewish Wars, b. vi. chapter 9, section 2, 3.

 

Another query about the Rapture would be to ask about its purpose? The reason why Jesus is not here yet, has to do with the salvation of people. He loves us and wants all of us to be with him in eternity. The longer God delays the coming of Jesus Christ, the more of us will love him in eternity because it seems that in heaven we do not procreate (Luke 20:34-35) [and we are not informed that God will simply create more people in the eternal future]. God made us in his image and wants none of to be lost. Therefore, the Bible says – 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” If this is the reason for the delay of Jesus’ coming, why beam up the church on its own when the church is the chosen agency to bring people to repentance? How are the remaining people ever to come to repentance and faith, if there are no Christians telling them about Jesus? God set us up to be the missionaries. It would be senseless to go on with history without the church.

Now, think about to the prophecy about one billion youth coming to faith in the coming years. Try and get the world view out of your head which stipulates that everything is always going from bad to worse. It’s not. The future is God’s and he’s good. It is true that this side of eternity there is always going to be sin and temptations and backsliding into sin and taking new territory. We are still living in a realm where Satan is beaten but not completely shut down; therefore – Ephesians 6:12: “ . our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” It is also true that the more the kingdom of God is expanding, the more Satan is trying to fight back. The stakes may be getting higher (Revelation 20:7-9). This is all true but think about Jesus.

Jesus died for the whole world. His death on a cross – his holy blood that was shed in a most agonizing death for us – was sufficient to wash the entire world clean of sin and corruption. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was not only for a select view but set up the world for redemption. Jesus may have been one man dying on a lonely hill outside of Jerusalem – one victim of violence among many – but he was not just anyone. He was the Son of God who had been in heaven for eternity and had come down to the world that he had made to set us free from the consequences of sin, the pain and separation from God. He came to reconcile all things to God – 2 Corinthians 5:19: “ . God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

This week (6 March 2012), I received an unexpected phone call from a previous church member. We had not talked for years but his mother-in-law was in hospital dying from cancer and needed a pastor. He thought that she had something unresolved on her heart. I went to the hospital. The daughter was there with her mum and the daughter had been praying in the hospital chapel that morning that her mum would find faith before she passed from this world into the next. The daughter wanted her to be saved. The mother was keen to talk to me and we had some private time together. She knew that – as she put it – she wason the way out”. I asked her whether she had faith. She said: “No.” Years ago she did go to church. I asked her whether she knew the good news of Jesus Christ. By her reaction, I could see that she was not sure. Then, I read to her John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” She understood and accepted the truth; then prayed for a long time (silently) while I held her hand. She became a Christian. Praise God – and here comes my point: I knew that God wanted her to be saved and I knew that Jesus’ death – his sacrifice on a cross – was sufficient also for her: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” [She died on Friday (three day after her conversion) and I believe that she died so quickly because she had peace with God and no fear.]

Wherever we go with the good news of salvation, the world is going to hear and one person after another – about 56,000 people a day (see below) – will accept Jesus as their Lord and – even though they die in hospital – live with him forever. Jesus promised us that wewill bear much fruit” (John 15:8) to the Father’s glory. He said that he appointed us so that wemight go and bear fruit – fruit that will last” (John 15:16). [Jesus said that his kingdom is like a mustard seed which is the smallest of all possible seeds but will grow up to be “the largest of garden plants and become a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch on its branches” (Matthew 13:32).]

 

[Christianity is ranked as the largest religion in the world today with approximately 2 billion adherents. 33% of the world’s population is considered to be Christian (but this number also includes nominal Christians).]

 

[The net growth rate of Christian believers is calculated through a more difficult scheme. To make it more evident, we will compare Christians to the rest of the population of the Earth. Annually, 36.6 million people (1.83% of Christians) are born to Christian families, 19.0 million people (0.95%) adopt Christianity, 16.5 million people (0.83%) denounce Christianity in favor of religions, 18.4 million Christians (0.92%) die. Thus, adding the born and newly-adopted Christians and subtracting those who leave Christianity or die, we get 20.7 million people as net growth of Christianity of the world (1.04% of Christians per year or 0.34% of the population of the Earth per year).]

 

As important and decisive Jesus’ death was – he is no longer hanging on a cross with a tortured body. He died but rose again from the grave after three days. He conquered the curse of death and now reigns over Satan and all darkness. As Jesus rose from the grave, Satan lost his power to accuse us before God. He can no longer demand our punishment because Jesus suffered the worst punishment on our behalf. Jesus made us free and he rose from the dead with the purposeful intent to exercise his power. I read you a few Bible verses which confirm this and also touch on our role in Christ’s victory:

 

Ephesians 1:18-23: I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance ... and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

 

No wonder this reading begins with a prayer to have the imagination of Christians to be enlightened. We may believe that Jesus Christ rose with such power that now all other authorities and names are placed under his feet but we struggle to understand that we belong to Jesus so closely – we are his “body” – that the same power – that made him rise from the dead – is also operating among us. There is nothing that can stand in Jesus’ way. Jesus told us the disciples thatall authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18) and then he commissioned them todisciple nations” (Matthew 28:19) – not a lone convert here or there but nations. Why would we ever doubt his power and adopt the worldview that Jesus is fighting a losing battle in this world? He’s not.

For instance, when the first persecution of Christians broke out, one man was the chief enemy of the Christians. He was breathing down rage on them and people lost their property and lives. Yet – then Jesus exercised his power. Enough was enough and he took control and he was not afraid of doing it in such a way that would rattle the cage of many Christians today. He was not afraid of doing something supernatural – (and he is still appearing to people in such clear fashion today). Listen to what happened:

 

Acts 9:1-19: Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men travelling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

 

Jesus knocked the persecutor down and blinded him. He identified with his church and confronted Paul with the truth. There was no way that murderous threats against the church would retain the upper hand. Jesus had promised previously thatthe gates of hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus took charge and made sure that a timid Ananias would do his job of saving even Paul – healing him of blindness, baptizing him, filling him with the Holy Spirit and commissioning him for mission work. The persecutor Paul would experience suffering himself but at the same time see a mighty expansion of God’s kingdom. He would preach in front of nations and kings. Jesus had announced his intentions: “This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.

Jesus is not going backwards. Take a good look at him and you see the future. One final Bible verse: “Of the increase of his government ... there is no end” (Isaiah 9:7).

 

Summary of Bible verses:

 

2 Corinthians 5:19: “ . God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ ... ”

 

John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son ... ”

 

John 15:8: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit ... ”

 

Matthew 13:31-32: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed ... the smallest of all your seeds ... grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree ... ”

 

Matthew 28:18-19: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me; Therefore go and make disciples of all nations ... ”

 

Matthew 16:18: “ ... The gates of hades will not overcome the church.”

 

Isaiah 9:7: “Of the increase of his government ... there is no end.”

 

 

Be encouraged. Be hopeful. Make plans to go forward, bear fruit and leave a legacy. Amen.

 

Show pictures of great mission joy: CfaN pictures. [Charles Krafft told us this week that the people group (numbering about 400,000) which he began to evangelize forty years ago was now 95% Christian.]

 

 



[1]  The doctrine of the ‘pre-tribulation secret rapture’ is the belief that faithful Christians will be removed suddenly and secretly from the earth prior to a time of ‘tribulation’ which will immediately precede the return of Jesus Christ to the earth. Although the concept of believers being removed from the earth at the time of Christ (the ‘rapture’), had been expressed by earlier expositors such as Increase and Cotton Mather in the 17th century[1] [2] and 18th century commentators Phillip Doddridge[3] and John Gill,[4]  the origin of the ‘pre-tribulation’ belief is typically attributed to John Nelson Darby, a 19th century member of the Plymouth Brethren. His contemporary Edward Irving (a Scottish clergyman), developed the idea further.[5]

Darby’s source for the doctrine has been much disputed. A long standing view that he was inspired by an ecstatic vision by Irvingite Margaret McDonald[6] is generally dismissed by historians, who typically consider the doctrine to be a unique interpretation of the Bible by Darby himself.[7] [8] It is also understood that the belief was original to the 19th century, and the challenge of explaining why it was not held previously in Christian history is recognized even by advocates of the ‘pre-tribulation secret rapture’.[9] [10]

Attempts to locate the doctrine earlier in Christian history[11] [12] have failed to win acceptance from the broader scholarly community.

 

[1] Kyle, ‘The Last Days Are Here Again: A History of the End Times’, pp. 78-79 (1998).

[2] Boyer, ‘When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture’, p. 75 (1992).

[3] Doddridge, ‘Practical reflections on the character and translation of Enoch’ (1738).

[4] Gill, ‘An exposition of the Revelation of St. John the divine’ (1748).

[5] Edward ‘The history and doctrines of Irvingism’, volume 2, p. 8 (1878).

[6] ‘According to MacPherson, Darby pilfered this two-stage teaching from Macdonald and then developed it systematically, skillfully passing it off as the fruit of his personal Bible study.’, Ice, ‘Why the Doctrine of the Pretribulational Rapture Did Not Begin with Margaret McDonald’, Bibliotheca Sacra (147.586.157), 1990.

[7] ‘Historian Timothy P. Weber’s evaluation is as follows:  The pretribulation rapture was a neat solution to a thorny problem and historians are still trying to determine how or where Darby got it…. A newer though still not totally convincing view contends that the doctrine initially appeared in a prophetic vision of Margaret Macdonald….   Possibly, we may have to settle for Darby’s own explanation. He claimed that the doctrine virtually jumped out of the pages of Scripture once he accepted and consistently maintained the distinction between Israel and the church.’, Ice, ‘Why the Doctrine of the Pretribulational Rapture Did Not Begin with Margaret McDonald’, Bibliotheca Sacra (147.586.162), 1990.

[8] ‘Posttribulationist William E. Bell asserts,  It seems only fair, however, in the absence of eyewitnesses to settle the argument conclusively, that the benefit of the doubt should be given to Darby, and that the charge made by Tregelles be regarded as a possibility but with insufficient support to merit its acceptance…. On the  whole, however, it seems that Darby is perhaps the most likely choice—with help from Tweedy. This conclusion is greatly strengthened by Darby’s own claim to have arrived at the doctrine through his study of 2 Thessalonians 2:1–2.’, Ice, ‘Why the Doctrine of the Pretribulational Rapture Did Not Begin with Margaret McDonald’, Bibliotheca Sacra (147.586.162-163), 1990.

[9] ‘If the pretribulation rapture is taught in the New Testament, as this writer believes, why did it take 1, 800 years for Christians to realize this doctrine?’, Ice, ‘Why the Doctrine of the Pretribulational Rapture Did Not Begin with Margaret McDonald’, Bibliotheca Sacra (147.586.164), 1990.

[10] ‘Some advocates of pretribulationalism hold a different theory of the history of the rapture, a “lost-and-found” model that is equally unsatisfactory. They believe that the teaching of the pretribulational rapture is in the Bible, but that this doctrine was lost in history soon after the writing of the New Testament. Then in the early nineteenth century Darby was enlightened by the Holy Spirit to the correct doctrine about the rapture.’, Gumerlock, ‘A Rapture Citation in the Fourteenth Century’, Bibliotheca Sacra (158.635.350), 2002.

[11] Demy & Ice, ‘The Rapture and an Early Medieval Citation’, Bibliotheca Sacra (152.697.305-317), 1995.

[12] Gumerlock, ‘A Rapture Citation in the Fourteenth Century’, Bibliotheca Sacra (158.635.348-362), 2002.

 

See also Catholic Answers (http://www.catholic.com/tracts/the-rapture):

But in the 1800s, some began to claim that the rapture would occur before the period of persecution. This position, now known as the "pre-tribulational" view, also was embraced by John Nelson Darby, an early leader of a Fundamentalist movement that became known as Dispensationalism. Darby’s pre-tribulational view of the rapture was then picked up by a man named C.I. Scofield, who taught the view in the footnotes of his Scofield Reference Bible, which was widely distributed in England and America. Many Protestants who read the Scofield Reference Bibleuncritically accepted what its footnotes said and adopted the pre-tribulational view, even though no Christian had heard of it in the previous 1800 years of Church history. 

 

From www.upwardcall.net/rapture.html (accessed 7th March 12): The “Secret”  Rapture  Throughout  Church History.

“…No hint  to such belief can be found in any Christian literature from Polycarp down.... Surely, (this  doctrine) finds no exponent or advocate in the whole history and literature of Christendom, for eighteen hundred years after the founding of the Church – a doctrine that was never taught by a Father or Doctor of the Church in the past ... until the middle of the Nineteenth century, ” (Robert Cameron, Scriptural Truth About The Lord’s Return).

The first person to whom the doctrine  concerning a rapture prior to the second coming of Jesus Christ, can be traced to was a  Roman Jesuit named Ribera in 1591 AD.  Then Emmanuel Lacunza claimed to be a converted Jew named “Rabbi Ben Ezra.” Under that alias, he theorized that the Church would be “raptured” before Jesus’ return to Earth. Later in 1827 his book was translated into English by a Scottish radical named Edward Irving. He published Lacunza’s view in his paper, “The Morning Watch”.

In 1830, a 15 year old charismatic girl named Margaret Macdonald, claimed that she had a vision of a “secret rapture”. A year later in, Robert Norton, a charismatic Irvingite evangelist, meets Margaret Macdonald and popularizes her “secret rapture” vision around England.

Dr. Samuel Prideaux Tregelles (1813-1875), a prominent English theologian and biblical scholar, wrote a pamphlet in 1866 tracing the concept of the rapture through the works of John Darby back to Edward Irving.

In 1870, John N. Darby, founder of the Plymouth Brethren, began to partake in many of the Irvingite meetings and at one point he wrote that he had “come to an understanding of a new truth”. Later in his own letters, Darby admitted that he had been influenced by the writings of the Jesuit De Lacunza. While in the States, Darby met C. I. Scofield.

“The person most responsible for the rather widespread acceptance of Pretribulationalism and Dispensationalism among Evangelicals is Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921). C. I. Scofield published his Scofield Reference Bible in 1909. This Bible, which espoused the doctrines of Darby in its notes, became very popular in Fundamentalist circles. In the minds of many a Bible teacher, fundamentalist pastor and multitudes of professing Christians, Scofield’s notes were practically equated with the word of God itself” (Brian Schwertley).

 

[2] David Winfrey: The Great Tribulation: Kept ‘Out of” or “Through’? in Grace Theological Journal 3 (1982): p5.