Escape from Planet Earth

By John F. Walvoord

Our modem world in the twentieth century has provided an amazing combination of events and situations that compare to the end times predicted in the Bible. Major events of the future begin with the rapture of the church, referring to the catching up of the church from earth to heaven. But significantly, the Bible never mentions a specific sign for the rapture itself, because it is always presented as an imminent event that could take place at any moment.

What can be the meaning, then, of talking about signs of the rapture? Being enacted before our eyes in this twentieth century is a preparation of the world's stage for events which will follow the rapture. These are detailed in both the Old and New Testaments, providing a panoramic view of the tremendous climax of human history leading up to the second coming of Christ. But the rapture comes first, and this event has no specific signs preceding it. What the world is seeing today is the preparation for events that will follow the rapture. Logically, this means that the rapture itself could be very near. This is the point of all the discussion concerning current events which are viewed as prophecy being fulfilled today.

Paramount, however, in all the evidence for the coming of the Lord is the fact that the Scriptures themselves provide the details for what is necessary to support the conclusion that Christ is coming for His own. Fulfillment could be any day. A study of the prophecies concerning the coming of Christ is still our best proof for the imminence of these earthshaking events.

Principles of Interpreting Prophecy

In the exercise of interpreting prophecies of the Bible, there has been a woeful neglect of basic rules of interpretation. This has resulted in prophecies being wrongly claimed as currently being fulfilled, as well as other important prophecies being ignored. It is amazing to see books on the end times that just skip, for example, the rapture and proceed as if we are already in the great tribulation. To avoid this interpretive error, we must understand clearly the rules of interpretation of prophecy.

First of all, the context of any prophecy needs to be thoroughly explored and understood. Second, it is most important to examine the details of the prophecy and carefully go over each aspect of the prophetic interpretation. Third, it is necessary to understand that prophecy is usually literal and given in plain statements of Scripture. To be sure, symbolic and apocalyptic presentations of prophecy appear in many passages, but even here the Bible itself interprets these symbols as prophetic predictions. It simply is not true that prophecy is a hopeless puzzle that no one can understand.

The main points of prophecy are clearly written in the scriptural record. Once the facts of prophecy are determined, then the practical application of the prophecy can be attempted. In the case of prophetic interpretation, this emphasizes the importance of being ready for the coming of the Lord. If His coming is truly imminent, it is of utmost importance to have assurance of salvation, commitment of life and property to the Lord, and a life of purity and devotion to the Lord. As given in Scripture, prophecy always has a practical context. In other words, it is intended not only to teach but also to exhort.

In carrying out these basic rules of interpreting prophecy, it is necessary first of all to examine carefully the Old Testament to see what it reveals and what it does not reveal and then to continue in the new revelation given in the New Testament as well. A careful search of all prophecies reveal that there are at least a thousand basic passages on prophecy in the Bible, some single verses and some whole chapters; of these thousand passages, 500 have already been literally fulfilled. This provides a reasonable and intelligent basis for assuming that prophecies yet to be fulfilled will likewise be literal in their fulfillment. With these facts in mind, it is very important then to ask: Mat was intended by the prophecy? To whom was it given? And what would be the normal comprehension of it?

The Coming of Christ in the Old Testament

In the Old Testament, not only are there hundreds of prophecies, but many of these are of major impact upon the history of the period. Beginning in the Garden of Eden, God told Adam and Eve that they would surely die if they partook of the forbidden fruit. When they sinned against God and partook of the fruit, they died spiritually immediately and ultimately physically.

The major predictions of the flood were literally fulfilled. Abram received extensive prophetic revelation, much of which has already been precisely fulfilled. Abram became a great man in history and in the Bible. He was the progenitor not only of the nation of Israel but of many other ancient nations as well. Through him came the line that led to Jesus Christ and provided blessing to all the world. This is summarized in three very important verses in Genesis 12:1-3.

To Abraham also was given the important promise that his descendants would inherit and possess the Promised Land (Genesis 12:7). One of the major mistakes of prophecy is to refuse to take this literally and instead try to equate this land with heaven. Throughout the Old Testament, every use and reference to the word "land" refers to real estate: what is commonly known as the Holy Land, extending from the River of Egypt to the River Euphrates, as detailed in Genesis 15:18-21.

The departure of the children of Israel to Egypt was predicted in Genesis 15:13,14, and their return was literally fulfilled. Though they wandered for 40 years in the wilderness, they eventually conquered at least a major portion of the land.

As long as Israel obeyed the law, God blessed them in the land. But it was freely predicted by Moses that if they disobeyed the law, they would be scattered and driven out of the land (Deuteronomy 28:58-68). This was tragically fulfilled, first by the Assyrian invasion of the land in 722 B.C. (2 Kings 17:5-8), when the ten tribes were carried off captive. Later, in 605 B.C., Jerusalem was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar, and subsequently captives from Judah were carried to Babylon (2 Kings 24:8-16).

In the midst of Israel's apostasy, Jeremiah the prophet, who had predicted the Babylonian conquest of Judah, predicted that after 70 years God would bring the captives back from Babylon to Israel (Jeremiah 29: 10). This was literally fulfilled after the Medes and Persians conquered Babylon. Though their history was troubled, the Jewish people eventually built the temple. In the time of Nehemiah they built the wall, and then in the years following Nehemiah they rebuilt the city of Jerusalem, replacing its ancient ruins. In all of these predictions there was literal fulfillment of the many prophecies that dealt with the nation of Israel as well as the nations that surrounded them.

Throughout the Old Testament, however, there also was prediction of the coming of the Messiah. The prophecies of the coming of the Lord as the Jewish Messiah and King of the line of David are interwoven with the major prophetic revelations of the Old Testament. As early as Genesis 3:15 it was predicted that the coming Son of the woman would destroy Satan. In the promise to Abraham, the Coming One was not only indicated to be the son of Abraham but it was also predicted that He would be a blessing to the entire world. This was fulfilled in Christ's death, as mentioned previously in Genesis 3:15. Intimately related to all of this was the fulfillment of the promise of the land as Israel's everlasting inheritance.

Later in the Old Testament, in the covenant with David (2 Samuel 7:12-16), God promised to perpetuate the kingdom of David, which ultimately would be fulfilled by the coming of the Messiah. Psalm 89 repeats and reiterates the unconditional nature of this promise that is related to the second coming of Christ. In connection with Israel's restoration, there is a time of terrible trouble spoken of as the great tribulation (Daniel 12: 1), which would be ended, however, by the restoration of Israel (Jeremiah 30:5- 11).

The fact that Israel would be restored to her land in connection with the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant is the major theme of Jeremiah 31. In Ezekiel 39:21-29 the promise is given that all Israelites would be regathered to their Promised Land at the time of the coming of the Messiah except for those who are purged out. In Ezekiel 20:33-38 it is clear that the rebels are unbelievers who will be purged out in that regathering. Only those who have come to trust in their Messiah will enter the Promised Land. Ezekiel 48 pictures the 12 tribes of Israel, each with its own inheritance in the Promised Land following the coming of the Messiah.

The prophecy of a Messiah who would suffer and die, as predicted in Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22, alongside these promises of glorious restoration, puzzled the rabbis as they attempted to interpret the Old Testament. This is mentioned in I Peter 1:10,11.

It is most important to realize that the Old Testament in its prediction spoke of both the first and second comings of Christ, but no one understood that they were two separate events. The first coming would involve His sufferings and death and resurrection, while in the second coming He would conquer the world and reign gloriously on earth. Interpreters of the Old Testament, however, never understood that there were two comings, and they attempted to merge these two conflicting predictions into one major prophecy. Though they gave various explanations, probably the most popular one identified the sufferings of Messiah with the sufferings of the nation of Israel but predicted the glorious reign of Christ as being brought about by His first coming. As far as Scripture reveals, nobody in the Old Testament or in the gospel period, except for Christ Himself, understood that there were two separate comings of Christ. This is most significant in considering the problem of separating the rapture from the second coming, except that this time thousands of people can see the difference.

It is most important to understand that the Old Testament, in its presentation of the coming of the Messiah, was universally misunderstood. The result was that the disciples came to follow Christ anticipating the fact that He would be a glorious reigning Messiah but ignoring the fact that He had to die first. And Christ did not immediately correct the disciples' anticipation. It is doubtful whether they would have followed Christ if they thought He was going to die and not fulfill His role of leadership. However, in the events leading up to His death, He predicted on several occasions that He would be crucified and die and then be resurrected (Matthew 12:38-42; 16:21-23; 17:22,23; 20:17-19; Mark 10:32-34; Luke 18:31-34).

The disciples immediately rejected this concept and so thoroughly erased it from their minds that when Christ actually died they did not recall His predictions of His death and resurrection. By contrast, the enemies of Christ remembered; they appointed soldiers to watch the tomb and sea] it to make it impossible for anyone to steal the body. Their attempts only added to the certainty of the fact that Christ actually rose from the dead in spite of the efforts to prevent removal of the body. The disciples were not credulous and eager to believe the fact of His resurrection; instead, they required solid proof-as given in the tomb and the appearances of Christ-that He was actually raised before they would accept this important miracle in fulfillment of prophecy.

In view of the many attempts to interpret Scripture as not teaching an imminent return of Christ in the rapture, it is a common interpretation by posttribulationists (who put the rapture at the end of the tribulation) and amillennarians (who ignore the rapture) also to insist that the disciples knew all about the rapture and therefore understood the predictions of the second coming as referring to the rapture. Actually there is not a scrap of evidence anywhere that indicates the disciples understood anything about this. How could the disciples understand the doctrine of the rapture as distinct from the second coming when they had not even comprehended the difference between the first and second comings of Christ?

In interpretation of prophecy, it is most important not only to observe in great detail what is said but also to carefully examine what is not said, and there is no mention of a rapture anywhere in the Gospels until the prediction in John 14. The fact that the disciples could not distinguish the first and second comings of Christ explains how some today have difficulty in distinguishing the rapture and the second coming. The reason these two events are properly distinguished, however, is based upon the biblical facts concerning them as two events that are totally different in what they accomplish. Also, the context of what precedes the rapture and the events that follow are in sharp contrast.

The First Prophecy of the Rapture

As the public ministry of Christ had moved on to more than three years, the disciples were beginning to despair whether His promises of a glorious reign were going to be fulfilled as they had anticipated. They saw instead a weakening of His followers, with many disciples turning away, and they were aware of the activities of the leaders of Israel to capture Christ and put Him to death. All these problems did not indicate any progress toward their goal of a glorious reign of Christ on earth. This was the reason they came to Christ in Matthew 24 and asked the questions concerning the signs of His coming and the end of the age.

As the disciples gathered in the upper room on the night before His crucifixion, Christ seized the opportunity to give them what hope He could. Their problem was that Christ told them He was to leave them and they could not follow Him. Also, one of their number was going to betray Him. They could not understand any of these predictions because they did not fit into their scheme of Christ gloriously reigning on earth. In the context, John 14 records the first revelation of Christ's coming to take His own out of the earth.

The entire fourteenth chapter of John is directed at the anxiety of the disciples. It gives them assurance that God is on the throne and will certainly fulfill His plan and purpose for the world and for His own. Christ exhorts them not to be troubled. The first thing He mentions is the fact that He would be going to heaven to prepare a place for them, and then come back to receive them to Himself: "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 to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also" (John 14:2,3 KJV).

It should be quite clear that the disciples did not have the slightest idea as to what Christ was talking about. There was nothing in their understanding of endtime prophecy that involved Christ coming to take His own out of the world. What they were anticipating was the kingdom on earth, in keeping with the Old Testament prophecies of Christ gloriously reigning on earth. Had not the Lord also assured them that they would sit on thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:27-30)?

Christ made no attempt to explain the doctrine of the rapture to them or even to correct their misunderstanding of His future kingdom. The dark days that followed as they watched Him die on the cross were left without relief until He rose from the dead and the disciples were assured of His resurrection. It is doubtful that even then they understood the difference between the first and second comings of Christ.

Later, when they saw Christ ascend into heaven, it apparently gradually dawned on the disciples that His sufferings and death had to do with His first coming, and that His second coming was to be fulfilled in a future event when He would return. They probably had no idea how long this period would be (which has now stretched to almost 2000 years). They anticipated the possibility that He might come back to establish His kingdom while they were still living.

The doctrine of the rapture was given by revelation to Paul. While undoubtedly the other disciples heard about it, it is not clear from the New Testament whether all the apostles understood that Christ would come for them first before He came to establish His kingdom.

The Revelation of the Rapture to Paul

When the apostle Paul was arrested in his mad course of persecuting Christians on the road to Damascus, he ultimately went through an experience of being taught by the Lord in special revelation the great truths that characterized his later writings. He was indoctrinated into the truth of grace, which apparently he had not completely understood in his life as a Pharisee, and in addition he was given the great revelation of Christ's next coming to take His own out of the world.

In his missionary journey, Paul incorporated these two main doctrines into his preaching, teaching first that Christ had come, died for our sins, and rose again, and is now able to save all those who put their trust in Him. This was coupled immediately with the truth that Christ might come at any time to take His own out of the world.

This truth is detailed for us in Scripture in connection with Paul's ministry to the Thessalonian church. Acting on divine instruction, he had left Asia Minor and gone over to Greece to preach at Philippi and then later at Thessalonica (Acts 16:8-10).

Paul's painful experience at Philippi, where he was beaten and placed in prison, did not deter him from preaching the gospel boldly at Thessalonica. As was his custom, he had gone to the synagogue there and preached the gospel to both Jews and Gentile converts for three Sabbath days (Acts 17:1-4). However, because of threats on his life on the part of those who rejected his message, he thought it best to leave.

Later, while in Athens, Paul had sent Timothy, his young disciple, to the Thessalonian church to see how they were getting along. Timothy found them standing true to the faith in spite of terrible persecution, and he did what he could to reassure them and encourage them. However, they had some important doctrinal questions which Timothy could not completely answer. So Timothy took those questions back to Paul for his consideration. One of the questions concerned some of the Thessalonians who had already died: If the Lord came for those living in the rapture, would they have to wait for some future time before their loved ones would be resurrected? In his first epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul expressed his joy at their standing true to the faith, but he also answered their theological questions and gave them more detail than anywhere else in the Scriptures concerning what would happen at the rapture of the church.

As stated earlier, it is most important to pay close attention to what is said and what is not said. So many wrong interpretations of the rapture come from neglect of the details or refusal to accept the revelation itself. As stated in I Thessalonians 4:13, Paul said, "I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope." God has a purpose in giving prophecy. If one- fourth of the Bible was prophetic when it was written, it certainly is evident that God does not want us to neglect this important truth, as many do today. It is also essential to listen carefully to what God says because there are no inaccuracies in His Word and nothing is omitted that is important to us. God does not want us to be ignorant or uninformed.

In Paul's letter to the Thessalonians, he addressed them as "brethren." Belief in the rapture is not essential to salvation, as there are thousands of Christians today who are ignorant of this great truth. Salvation relates to the first coming of Christ and what Christ did for us on the cross. There is an important reason, however, for understanding this truth of the rapture: Paul does not want us to have hope without content. While many Christians believe they are going to heaven, they are practically at a loss to state anything about this event or what their state would be or when this would occur. Paul makes it clear that it is God's purpose not to keep us ignorant or uninformed but to give us a wonderful hope, in contrast to a world with no hope at all.

This wonderful hope is particularly brought out in a Christian funeral. On one occasion I attended the memorial service of an 11 -year old girl who had died of leukemia. Her parents were prominent Christian workers. The church was packed with well- wishers and sympathizers. It was a glorious occasion, however, as the girl's family and friends recounted the wonderful hope that they would see their loved one again. When Christ comes, the family will be reunited. What a difference if the little girl had not been a Christian and the parents had not been Christians! What could extend any hope or comfort to those left behind? In proportion as our future with the Lord is real and our personal love for the Lord and desire to see him is real, so will prophecy become real for us as we attempt to understand what God has predicted in His Word.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:14 the absolute certainty of the rapture is revealed: "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus." The death and resurrection of Christ was a major subject of Old Testament prophecy. Implied in all the passages of His glorious reign is that after His death He would need to be raised from the dead. Now that Christ has come, however, and has died and been resurrected, it is prophecy fulfilled. There is absolutely no uncertainty about the prophecy having a literal fulfillment.

From the divine point of view, prophecy is just as certain as history. From the human point of view, however, it is reassuring to see that predictions are literally fulfilled. Today we can believe with certainty that Christ died and rose again. Paul's argument is that, just as the death and resurrection of Christ, a central doctrine of the Christian gospel, is true, so the rapture is also absolutely certain and absolutely true. In describing this event he is predicting what actually will happen.

When the rapture occurs, Christ will take the souls of Christians in heaven and bring them with Him as He comes back to the earthly sphere. When a Christian dies, a medical doctor can declare a person dead because the signs of life are absent. Theologically, a Christian who dies experiences death when the soul leaves the body and goes immediately to heaven, as indicated in 2 Corinthians 5:8. It is customary, however, to put the body of Christians who have died in the grave. When the rapture occurs, Christ will bring the souls of these from heaven back to the earthly sphere with the obvious purpose of causing them to be raised from the dead, and the soul will reenter the resurrection body.

Paul follows this with a detailed description of exactly what is going to happen on the occasion of the rapture. As stated in I Thessalonians 4:15-18:

For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coining of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

First of all, Paul points out that this is not a revelation of the Old Testament, and he does not quote Old Testament passages dealing with the second coming; rather, it is a new truth given by direct revelation. He then describes the scene: Christians who are alive at the time of the rapture will not precede those who have died. One of the problems of the Thessalonian church was that they were concerned that, when those who were living were raptured, their dead brethren would not be raised. But Paul replied that there was no need to worry about this issue because their resurrection would precede by a moment the translation and rapture of the living Christians. He then described how the Lord would bodily descend from heaven to the air above the earth.

Though Christ is everywhere, omnipresent in His divine deity, in His resurrected human body He can be in only one place at a time because this is the nature of a body. At the rapture He will come bodily from heaven as a token of the importance of this event. He will issue a shout which is also a command of resurrection to Christians all over the world who have died. Their souls will reenter their bodies. He will command living Christians to be caught up and meet Him in the air. Living Christians will experience what Paul later described in his first letter to the Corinthians indicating that our present bodies, which are subject to death and corruption and sin, will be exchanged for bodies that are suited for heaven. Paul writes in I Corinthians 15:51-53:

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed-in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

Taken with 1 Thessalonians 4, the 1 Corinthians passage gives a complete picture of what will happen on the occasion of the rapture.

When the trumpet sounds, not only will the dead be raised with new bodies that will be suited to be in the presence of the Lord forever, but the living Christians who now have sinful bodies and experience mortality and age will be instantly changed into bodies which will last forever without sin and without corruption.

Three basic problems of the human body will be settled instantly. First, our present bodies have a sin nature, as indicated in Ephesians 2: 1, and they are not suitable for the presence of the Lord. Second, our bodies grow old, and we need a body that does not deteriorate. Third, our bodies are subject to death, and we need bodies that are immortal. All these changes will take place instantly when the trumpet of the rapture sounds.

Christians who died would be resurrected a moment before Christians who are living are translated. According to I Thessalonians 4:17, we will be caught up or raptured with those resurrected. There is no record that Christ's feet will ever touch the earth at the time of the rapture. Instead, Scripture predicts that we will be forever with the Lord.

John 14:1-3 indicates that when Christ comes for us He will take us to the Father's house, which is heaven. In other words, we will not be floating around in space right after the rapture, but will go immediately into the presence of the Lord. This is anticipated, for example, in I Thessalonians 3:13, which teaches that we will be presented before God our heavenly Father.

The reference to the clouds could refer to atmospheric clouds, which would also characterize the second coming. Some believe that the reference is to the multitude or "clouds" of those who are resurrected or translated, similar to Hebrews 12: 1, which speaks of a cloud of witnesses. From then on we will be wherever the Lord is, whether in heaven in the Father's presence during the terrible time of tribulation, on earth during the millennial earth, or in the new heaven and new earth (and the new Jerusalem) for all eternity. The assurance of this plan of God is a comfort to us because these promises are given as something that could occur at any time. It is a reminder of how our present time of suffering and bereavement may be suddenly cut off by that trumpet sound from the blue.

It is most important to realize that the scriptural rapture is totally different from the picture of the second coming as given in Revelation 19:11-16. Here Christ comes back to the earth with the purpose of judging the world and bringing His kingdom to bear upon the earth. He is accompanied by the armies of heaven, including the angels and the saints, and the church, which had previously been raptured. They all come to be with Christ during His thousand-year reign on earth. While many questions are left unanswered, the main facts are perfectly clear for anyone who will accept what the Scriptures say. At the time of the rapture there is no judgment on earth and there is no heavenly host accompanying Christ, for His purpose in this event is to take the church to heaven. In contrast, His purpose in Revelation 19, where He comes from heaven to earth, is to bring His judgment and power to bear upon a wicked earth. The fact that no intervening events are ever mentioned between the present moment and the rapture gives assurance to believers, even if they differ on many other points of prophecy, that Christ could come very soon.

The Rapture and the Day of the Lord

After the rapture is described as an imminent event, it is only natural to ask: Men will it occur? First Thessalonians 5 deals with this issue. In this connection a new term is introduced: "the day of the Lord." Most expositors hold that the reason the day of the Lord is introduced is that it begins at the time of the rapture. This is commonly held not only by pretribulationists but also by posttribulationists.

The problem then becomes the question, Mat is the day of the Lord? An examination of the Old Testament reveals that the day of the Lord refers to any period of God's intervention in the affairs of man in judgment. The day of the Lord sharply contrasts the present time, which is the day of grace. Frequently God brought upon Israel invaders, failure of crops, drought, pestilence, and other difficulties referred to in the Scriptures as a "day of the Lord." Typical is the passage found in Joel 1: 14-20:

Consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly; gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.

Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is at hand; it shall come as destruction from the Almighty. Is not the food cut off before our eyes, joy and gladness from the house of our God? The seed grain shrivels under the clods, storehouses are in shambles; barns are broken down, for the grain has withered. How the beasts groan! The herds of cattle are restless, because they have no pasture; even the flocks of sheep suffer your punishment.

0 Lord, to You I cry out; for fire has devoured the open pastures, and a flame has burned all the trees of the field. The beasts of the field also cry out to You, for the water brooks are dried up, and fire has devoured the open pastures.

Joel goes on to speak of the day of judgment as the day of the Lord. Frequently in the Old Testament, the prophecy goes beyond the immediate judgment of God to the ultimate day of the Lord which precedes the second coming. This is the content of Joel 2: 1 - 11. Also in the same chapter is the dramatic passage of 2:30-32:

I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, as the Lord has said, among the remnant whom the Lord calls.

Here are the promises that a day of divine deliverance will come at the second coming of Christ. Most of the book of Joel is occupied with not only the theme of judgment but also the theme of deliverance, as in chapter 3. Some of the historic applications to Israel are also found in Amos (see 5:16-20). The theme is also picked up in Isaiah 13:6-16. All of this forms a dramatic background for the declaration that the future day of the Lord will begin at the rapture.

Some of the particulars of the period of judgment following the rapture are itemized in 1 Thessalonians 5. The day of the Lord is declared to come as a thief in the night, just as the rapture occurs. That is, there are no warnings and it can be expected at any time. In I Thessalonians 5:3, the proclamation of peace and safety which follows the covenant of Daniel 9:27 at the beginning of the seven years is interrupted as the great tribulation begins when the covenant is broken and sudden destruction comes upon the people. Christians are described as those who live in the light not in the darkness, whereas those who live in that future period are described as living in darkness.

An important fact is presented in I Thessalonians 5:9: "For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." In contrast to the day of the Lord, the time of divine wrath, Christians are not appointed to that day. In other words, we are appointed to a different time frame, namely, the period before the day of the Lord. If the day of the Lord is fulfilled in the period preceding the second coming of Christ, then it should be obvious that the rapture of the church also precedes this time of judgment when the day of the Lord will begin.

The Rapture and the Man of Sin

An important and additional predictive revelation is found in 2 Thessalonians 2. Here the context is very important. It is clear from 2 Thessalonians 2 that between the two epistles false teachers had come in who were legalizers and who had told the Thessalonian church that the sufferings which they were going through in their persecution were those of the day of the Lord. In other words, the day of the Lord had already begun. They claimed that this was the teaching of Paul and that they had manuscripts and special messages from him to this effect.

When Paul heard of this, he was of course indignant that the Thessalonian church was alarmed. Were they going to go through the day of the Lord, or had they missed the rapture and therefore were already in the day of the Lord? In either case, they had reason for alarm.

In chapter 2 of 2 Thessalonians, Paul addressed this problem directly. He began by reminding them of his teaching which they had heard when he was there. In 2 Thessalonians 2:1 he wrote, "Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you." He was specifically speaking about the coming of Christ and our gathering or rapture on that occasion. He followed in verse 2 by observing that they are not to be disturbed, as if there had been a message from God by a spirit or by word or by letter from Paul. He stated that they should "not ... be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come." (In many texts the word "Lord" is used instead of Christ.") Paul stated in verses 3 and 4:

Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.

The expression "that Day will not come" is of course added to the text. It is not in the original, but it brings out the point of what is being discussed in the sentence. Two things in particular are mentioned as having to occur before the day of the Lord can come: a falling away, referring to doctrinal apostasy, and a revelation of the man of sin, who is the future Antichrist and world ruler and who is described in verse 4 as the one who in the great tribulation occupies the temple and is worshiped as God. Paul reminded the Thessalonians that he had taught them about this when he was with them.

What does it mean when the day of the Lord comes? This point is often obscure in current exegeses of this passage. Note that the passage does not say when the day of the Lord begins. As a time period, it begins at the rapture but comes when the major events take place. To illustrate this concept, consider the statement "When the Fourth of July comes we will have a parade." This does not refer to 12:01 A.M. on July 4; it refer to 10 A.M., the time of the parade. The day begins at 12:01 but it comes at 10 A.M. In other words, he is referring to the first major event after the day of the Lord begins, and this is the revelation of the man of sin.

Prophecy here requires reconstructing the major events of the end times in their chronological order. This is commonly neglected in most works on prophecy but is essential to understanding the period.

When the rapture occurs, several Scriptures indicate that either immediately before the rapture or immediately afterward there will be a revival of the ancient Roman Empire in the form of ten countries, as predicted in Daniel 7:7. As pointed out in previous chapters in this book, Europe is ripe for just such an arrangement because the countries of Europe for the first time in centuries are on a friendly basis in which they can easily get together politically, as they are currently attempting to do in the common economic market.

When they are formed as a ten-nation group, a dictator will rise, described as the little horn of Daniel 7:8, and he will apparently conquer three of the ten countries. From then on Scriptures regard him as the ruler of all ten, though no explanation is ever given as to why the other seven capitulate. It is obvious that when he conquers the three countries, he will already be identified as the man of sin and the future dictator and Antichrist, and when he conquers all ten, this will be further confirmed.

From his position of power, the man of sin will bring about the covenant of Daniel 9:27, which describes the last seven years leading up to the second coming of Christ. It is the final seven years of Israel's prophesied prophetic program, 483 years of which were completed before the crucifixion of Christ. The present age has intervened. The last seven years will be resumed when this covenant is signed. According to Daniel 9:27, the first 3 1/2 years will be a period of relative peace, though it may include the invasion of Israel and the sneak attack by six nations as described in Ezekiel 38 and 39. In the middle of the seven years, however, the covenant will be broken and the leader of the ten countries will assume control over the entire world by proclamation. This will begin the world government of the end times, of which the Antichrist will be the head.

Scripture describes him as being aligned with Satan (Revelation 13:1-4). His supernatural powers apparently come from Satan himself. He will demand that everyone worship him at the pain of death. Those who do not worship the world ruler as well as Satan will be put to death (Revelation 13:15). The full revelation of his character and evil attributes will appear when he breaks the covenant with Israel at the beginning of the last 3 1/2 years. It should be obvious, however, that this is the final climax rather than the beginning of the revelation of who he is. Actually he is identifiable as soon as he has control of the three countries of the Roman Empire, and then the ten countries later. When he makes the covenant with Israel for seven years, he is certainly the same person who at the middle of the seven years becomes the world ruler aligned with Satan.

What Paul is teaching in 2 Thessalonians 2 is that the man of sin cannot be revealed until after the rapture. If he is revealed more than seven years before the second coming of Christ, then the rapture has to occur before the seven years, and this wipes out all the contenders for posttribulationism, partial rapturism, or midtribulationism, leaving only the pretribulational view as that which is in harmony with the Scriptures.

Paul further supports this idea of a pretribulational rapture by calling attention to the fact that the day of the Lord cannot begin until the restrainer of sin is taken out of the way (2 Thessalonians 2:7). While there is debate as to who this person is, obviously the suggested powers for good such as human government do not exist in the endtimes because the government is wholly evil. It certainly is not Satan himself, and the historic answer based on Genesis 6:3 is that the ultimate One who restrains sin is the Holy Spirit. As He is indwelling the church prior to the rapture, the Holy Spirit is not free to be "removed." But if He is removed, the church would have to be removed with Him. This does not mean that He is entirely taken out of the earthly sphere, but that He is removed in the same sense as when He came on the day of Pentecost. He will still be in the world; people will still be able to be saved by Him, but He will lift the restraint of evil that now exists because the church indwelt by the Holy Spirit influences the world with its moral principles. It may fairly be concluded that it will be impossible to remove the Holy Spirit in the sense given in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 unless the church is also raptured.

Accordingly, Paul offers two major arguments here. One, they are not in the day of the Lord because the man of sin has not been revealed; and two, the restrainer has not been removed. This effectively presents a scriptural basis for the pretribulational rapture which is no longer just an inference but the result of biblical exegesis.

The Practical Value of the Rapture

The fact that Christ could come any day and remove His church from the world is a dramatic fact of our current civilization. If there are many evidences in the world that the world scene is set up for precisely what the Bible predicts for the days after the rapture then it is also clear that the rapture itself is not only imminent but that it could be very soon. This has tremendous practical implications.

First of all, it raises the question for everyone concerning personal salvation. Only those who are born again and who have the life of Christ in them will be raptured. They are the ones who are in Christ by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It may be debated whether the Old Testament saints are raised at the same time or later at the second coming, but it is clear that the rapture of the church is imminent. If it is true that our lives may suddenly be cut short, it makes time very precious. The challenges of full commitment to Christ, proper use of our opportunities for witness, and proper investment of our substance in the Lord's work all become very acute and important.

The Bible does not suggest radical means of approaching this commitment, such as giving away all our property or making no plans for the future. Even Paul, who believed in the rapture of the church, made plans for the future until he knew for sure that he was going to be executed before the rapture. Instead, Scripture calls for a "far view" as well as a "near view" of the future. In other words, we should be living in such a way that we will have no regrets if the Lord should come any day; on the other hand, we must have a reasonable plan for the extension of our lives to their normal limits in case the Lord's coming does not occur in our lifetime.

Few doctrines of the Scriptures are more dramatic, more practical, and more applicable to the challenges of our present life before the Lord. John recorded all the dramatic prophecies that deal with the second coming, including the millennium and the eternal state, but ended his treatment of it with a prayer: "Even so, come, Lord Jesus!" (Revelation 22:20). This sentiment could also be applied to the whole scenario of Christ's second coming, but John, like other Christians, anticipated that before these events would take place he would have the joy of being caught up to heaven if the Lord came in his lifetime. We too can be looking up to the blue, waiting for that joyous event of the coming of the Lord and the trumpet sound that will signal the end of our earthly pilgrimage and the beginning of our glorious experience in the eternal presence of our Savior.