The texts of secular history tell us of human failure, wars, natural disasters and a cataclysmic flood, described in the Bible as the Great Flood of Noah. The histories of early Europe, India and the Far East record this event in their own mythical ways. They also refer to the ancient days in which the “gods” descended from the heavens to walk among men. Virtually every ancient culture has its historical documents, chronicling fearful and erratic wars in the heavens, in which supernatural beings interposed their tyrannical rule upon mankind. Graeco-Roman demigods were regarded as real and present powers. Temples devoted to worshiping them were the wonders of the ancient world. Their ruins still fascinate us.
Yet none of these pagan systems of belief contained the slightest reference to a wonderful future event – the general resurrection of the righteous dead. Of course, the Apostle Paul calls it the “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). It is one of the great reasons why we constantly search the Scriptures, eagerly studying them for further insights.
As we do so, we find that the resurrection of the Church is far more than an escape from planet earth. In fact, the rapture is part of a much larger panorama. This amazing event is an important part of the extended process of restoring God’s Creation, which long ago became corrupted in the wake of Satan’s rebellion.
“12 Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: 13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Col. 1:12,13).
The resurrection is here likened to light, in a beautiful picture of righteousness. Clean and pure garments, particularly in the biblical image of white robes, give us a wonderful picture of the future of the Church. And this future prophecy is built upon past achievement. Perhaps surprisingly, the biblical view of the rapture shows that there is nothing at all new or novel about the idea of being caught up to heaven. It has already happened several times, and will happen again. As we shall see, Scripture shows at least seven of these events.
When Paul refers to the “day of Christ” three different times, he is referring to an all-encompassing paradigm change. The world, which has proceeded for a few thousand years on a relatively even keel, will suddenly be propelled into a rapid succession of massive geological, meteorological, political, and spiritual changes, designed to restore the earthly Kingdom to Israel, and environmental purity to our planet.
The fervent belief in environmental stability, sometimes called uniformitarianism, is the religion of our day. It is centered upon the belief that for millions of years, things have slowly progressed along a predictable pathway. It is popularly believed that this condition will prevail, allowing the cosmos to continue its evolution at the same slow rate that it has always exhibited, until humanity arrives at perfection. Its single unifying conviction is that man can progressively improve himself, and establish a utopia.
But in one, future, electrifying moment, this belief will be dashed to pieces, as a rapid change of scene sweeps across every inch of land and sea.
In the very first instant of this change, we – the body of Christ – will be taken from this earth, along with the saints of the ages, resurrected into glory to enjoy the Lord’s presence and to participate in the massive restoration event that the Bible calls, “The Day of the Lord.” It will bring not one, but a series of catastrophes to man and the world. Make no mistake, the entire judgment process will be initiated following the rapture. From this perspective, the catching-away cannot occur at any time during or after the catastrophes of the Tribulation. In point of fact, it must happen before the Tribulation – perhaps significantly in advance of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” Since the antichrist rides forth on one of these horses after the rapture, his identity will not be revealed to the body of Christ. Scripture clearly reveals that the Tribulation is not set off by the rapture; its beginning is marked at the precise moment that “the prince that shall come” (Dan. 9:26) confirms a seven-year treaty with the leaders of Israel: “And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate” (Dan. 9:27).
As predicted from ages past by the prophets of God, the Tribulation will be an enormous cleansing process, directed by our Lord. Scripture clearly reveals its purposes:
FIRST: The Tribulation will destroy the world system of commerce and idolatry, seen in two-fold form in the book of Revelation. As commercial and religious Babylon, it will meet its final end. The Gentile grip on political and financial power will come to an end, as Israel rises to receive the Kingdom of the Messiah
SECOND: Israel will be forced to abandon its ages-long self-righteousness. Finally, Israel will be brought to the realization that they have sinned and can be redeemed only through faith in the Lord. The prophet Ezekiel writes of their moment of truth during the Tribulation:
“35 And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people, and there will I plead with you face to face. 36 Like as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I plead with you, saith the Lord GOD. 37 And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant: 38 And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me: I will bring them forth out of the country where they sojourn, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel: and ye shall know that I am the LORD” (Ezek. 20:35-38).
THIRD: The hundred and forty-four thousand Israelites, sealed from each of the twelve tribes, will lead a world-shaking global revival, leading millions to salvation during the first half of the Tribulation.
The cataclysms that accompany this period will not be experienced by the members of the body of Christ, which is to be spared from judgment. Some find this aspect of grace detestable, characterizing an escapist church fleeing the scene to let the rest of the world suffer. But true Christians never wish God’s wrath upon the unsaved. They have been taught to love even those that curse them, and to share the Gospel with everyone they meet.
As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9).
Also, the Lord’s words to the faithful Philadelphian church reinforce this thought: “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth” (Rev. 3:10).
ENOCH, THE FIRST RAPTURED
At the beginning of the Bible, mankind is created within the perfect environment. What followed, forever cancels the bogus argument that when you place a human in such surroundings, he will respond by growing toward peace and perfection. In the very presence of God, in a perfect climate, and with abundance on every hand, man was unable to resist temptation. The “Old Serpent” tempted the first couple, and they fell. Their son Cain, the firstborn, murdered his brother Abel.
From that point, Scripture divides mankind into two genetic lineages. Cain became the father of the ungodly. Adam’s third son Seth, became a replacement for Abel. So, Seth fathered the Godly:
“25 And Adam knew his wife again; and she bare a son, and called his name Seth: For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew. 26 And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the LORD” (Gen. 4:25, 26).
Ancient Jewish commentary has long held that in the days of Enos, idolatry began in earnest. Some Jewish translations reflect this idea. A good example of this is found in the Stone Chumash, where the verse reads “Then to call in the Name of Hashem [the LORD] became profaned.” Its editor’s comment, “The generation of Enosh introduced idolatry, which was to become the blight of humanity for thousands of years. By ascribing God-like qualities to man and lifeless objects, they created the abominable situation in which to call in the Name of Hashem became profaned (Rashi)” (p. 23).
They cite the Hebrew language of verse 26, where the preposition may be translated “in,” rather than “on” or “upon.” In this case, the verse would read, “Men began to call in the name of the Lord.”
“Rambam (Hil. Avodas Kochavim 1:1-2) explains how the grievous misconception of idol worship began and developed. Very briefly, he says that it began when people felt that they should honor the heavenly bodies as God’s emissaries to the world, just as it is proper to honor the ministers of a ruler. Eventually, this trend spread and became more and more corrupted, until worshipers forgot about God and assumed that all powers were vested in whatever representation they chose to worship” (p. 23).
Whatever the case, idolatry began to grow, and was fully developed by the sixth generation after Seth, when Enoch was born into a world that had adopted various forms of idol worship. If we are to believe ancient reports, the heavenly bodies were only a small part of the false worship that had so quickly taken hold on the antediluvian culture. The Bible described his birth in the following context.
“18 And Jared lived an hundred sixty and two years, and he begat Enoch: 19 And Jared lived after he begat Enoch eight hundred years, and begat sons and daughters: 20 And all the days of Jared were nine hundred sixty and two years: and he died. 21 And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah: 22 And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters: 23 And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years: 24 And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him” (Gen. 5:18-24).
Enoch has long been thought of as perhaps the most Godly man (other than Christ) ever to walk upon the face of the earth. This fact is made most remarkable in the face of his environment. He lived in a world of open sin, among demonic forces.
Idolatry begins with a formal appeal to false gods. But it quickly rises to the level of welcoming those gods into the culture. Finally, it becomes enslaved to depraved practices, which will placate them. Once the false gods obtain a toehold by pretending to be servants of man, they quickly gain power and become his despotic oppressors.
According to various extra-biblical sources, Enoch’s world was dominated by fallen angels, who intermarried with human women to produce monstrous offspring. Flavius Josephus attributes the corruption of the early world and the flood of Noah to their evil activities.
The Book of Enoch gives details about the timing of their activities:
“And it came to pass when the children of man had multiplied that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters.
“And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: ‘Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men and beget us children.’
“And Semjaza, who was their leader, said unto them; ‘I fear ye will not indeed agree to do this deed, and I alone shall have to pay the penalty of a great sin.’
“And they all answered him and said: ‘Let us all swear an oath, and all bind ourselves by mutual imprecations not to abandon this plan but to do this thing.’
“Then sware they all together and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it.
“And they were in all two hundred; who descended in the days of Jared on the summit of Mount Hermon, and they called it Mount Hermon, because they had sworn and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it” (Enoch 6:1-6).
The sin of these angels was so great, that it imperiled all humanity. Among believers, it is common knowledge that the Lord looked down upon His corrupted creation and decided to destroy it. Only Noah and his family were considered pure enough to bring the Messianic line of Seth across the flood, to begin anew after the waters receded.
Into this tumult, or more importantly, at its very beginning, in the days of his father Jared, Enoch had been born into a world facing judgment. He thus serves as the perfect type of the righteous man, caught up into heaven before the horrors of a declining world were fully developed.
It was a time of doctrinal corruption, as well as physical insult. It must be remembered that the evil ones taught men things that were held to be forbidden knowledge. Jude, in fact, uses the example of the fallen angels to illustrate the evil effect of false teachers:
“And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6).
Peter’s second epistle, written a few years earlier, probably provided the basis for Jude’s comment:
“4 For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; 5 And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly” (2 Pet. 2:4, 5).
Like Enoch, Noah was saved by his faith.
The sin of these heavenly intruders was so great that God placed them into a special place of confinement – as we would say today, solitary confinement and maximum security.
It seems that God took Enoch to spare him from the coming judgment. His name, pronounced Chanokh in Hebrew, means “initiated,” or “dedicated,” the same word root as Chanukkah, the festival of dedication. Being set apart as an example of a man of great faith – complete dedication – Enoch was a living example of the word.
Jones Dictionary of Old Testament Names says this about him: “He was so eminent a man of faith that he walked with God, and with his spiritual eye saw eternal realities, God and heaven; and after a sojourn of 365 years in a deceitful and deceiving world, God took him. The Jews consider him as the inventor of letters, and assert that a book of visions and prophecies, written by him, was preserved by Noah in the ark. Hence the Arabians call him … Eldris, i.e. the learned. That he was a prophet is most certain from the book of Jude, and a book [quoted above] has been lately discovered bearing his name” (p. 115).
This observation is supported by the simple fact that Jude’s epistle quotes the Book of Enoch directly and without embellishment:
“14 And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, 15 To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (Jude 14, 15).
Writing about 5,300 years ago, Enoch looked toward the day of the Lord’s judgment … just as we do. Here, Joel quotes his words, envisioning the future arrival of the Messiah as seen in Revelation 19, coming with the armies of heaven … the Second Coming. God took Enoch to heaven prior to the judgments of his own era, just as we will be taken out before the future judgment mentioned in Enoch’s own prophecy.
MOSES, THE SECOND RAPTURED
Moses, Israel’s great prophet and deliverer, presided over the Bible’s next great period of sin and idolatry. In a surprising way, he is also an example of rapture.
He entered into the Egyptian culture, with its hundreds of gods, goddesses, magic amulets and powerful occult priesthood. By the grace of God, Moses, a Hebrew, became the most gifted member of the house of Pharaoh.
He lived to be a hundred and twenty years of age, and his life was divided into thirds, each lasting forty years. First, he was a political and military leader in Egypt. During the next period, he lived in the deserts of Midian, as a shepherd. At the age of eighty, he was sent before Pharaoh to deliver his people. Forty difficult years followed, as he struggled to establish a spiritual Israel.
Egypt is a type of the world system, which, because of sin, is rooted in a structure of idolatry. In a way, the world that Moses confronted, closely resembled Enoch’s debased society. The Lord placed both men into the world during critical times in history.
And like Enoch, Moses’ last days on earth were highly unusual. In fact, one can make the case that he, too, was taken to heaven alive. Exodus 34 describes his death, following his blessing of the tribes. He ascended Mount Nebo, where he viewed the Promised Land:
“1 And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho. And the LORD shewed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan, 2 And all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim, and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah, unto the utmost sea, 3 And the south, and the plain of the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, unto Zoar. 4 And the LORD said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither” (Deut. 34:1-4).
The average body is quite worthless; mining its material wealth would produce only a few pennies’ worth of usable chemicals. Only the soul and spirit are of worth; they live on to be judged by the Lord.
This was not the case with Moses. His body was considered to be extremely valuable. Perhaps its value was far greater than anything we can imagine on earth. Scripture goes out of its way to make sure that we know this. An incident recorded in the epistle of Jude gives us certainty about this fact.
As he writes, detailing the nature of false teachers, he notes their tendency to disrespect spiritual authority. To illustrate this point, Jude recalls an apparently well-known occurrence that concerned the death of Moses. Jude brings forward the historical point that the devil had, at one point, attempted to make the case that Moses’ body belonged to him. An argument ensued, with the archangel Michael making an appeal to the Lord, rather than directly criticizing the person of the devil:
“8 Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities. 9 Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee. 10 But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves” (Jude 8-10).
The truth of the matter is plain: The protocols of heaven command a degree of respect, even for the fallen Satan! Until the final judgment, the Old Serpent has retained some sort of sovereignty over this planet. The fact that he desired the body of Moses makes it clear that he believed he had a legal claim. There are many lessons taught by this encounter. But for our current study, the main thing to observe is that Satan considered the body of Moses to be quite valuable!
Unlike normal bodies, Moses’ body had great worth; it appears that he was not “dead” in the usual sense of the word. Was he in some form of suspended animation, pending his latter-day reappearance? A brief passage from the history of Flavius Josephus reveals what the Jews actually thought about Moses’ “death:”
“Now as soon as they were come to the mountain called Abarim [Nebo], which is a very high mountain, situated over against Jericho, and one that affords, to such as are upon it, a prospect of the greatest part of the excellent land of Canaan, he dismissed the senate; and as he was going to embrace Eleazar and Joshua, and was still discoursing with them, a cloud stood over him on the sudden, and he disappeared in a certain valley, although he wrote in the holy books that he died, which was done out of fear, lest they should venture to say that, because of his extraordinary virtue, he went to God” (Antiquities, IV. viii. 48).
Here, Josephus gives us an apparent eyewitness account that shows Moses being lifted up into a cloud, the very same idea expressed by Paul in the New Testament, as he describes the rapture of the church! Did he leave his body behind, to be interred by the Lord in a place which no man knew? Or did his body rise to heaven, where it lay in a place designated by the Lord? Was it in that place that Satan attempted to take it?
This side of eternity, we can never know the answers to these questions. But we can say with certainty that Moses’ death was out of the ordinary. And later, in the days of Jesus, Moses appeared to Jesus, Peter, James and John on the Mount of the Transfiguration:
“1 And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, 2 And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. 3 And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him” (Matt. 17:1-3).
In this divine moment, Moses appeared with Elijah, who had also been taken to heaven alive. The strong suggestion is that somehow, Moses transcended the ordinary idea of death. Whether or not it is true that he was taken in a cloud, as mentioned by Josephus, is irrelevant. He didn’t die in the ordinary sense. He was caught up.
ELIJAH, THE THIRD RAPTURED
This brings us to the third, and quite clear, historical rapture of an important biblical personality. In a way similar to the lives of Enoch and Moses, the Lord brought Elijah into the center of a vortex of moral and spiritual depravity.
In the ninth century, B.C., he arrived on the scene without notice; suddenly he was there, in the presence of Ahab and his wicked wife Jezebel, priestess of Baal. Israel had fallen into utter idolatry. Now, Elijah the prophet had come to declare judgment:
“And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word” (1 Kings 17:1).
Having pronounced what turned out to be a three-and-a-half-year drought, Elijah followed the Lord’s instructions and fled for his life. Later, toward the end of the drought, he returned to challenge the prophets of Baal. In the well-known story, he arranged a public demonstraton, laying out a sacrifice to the Lord, who found it acceptable. The prophets of Baal, whose god remained silent, were slain. Again, Elijah fled for his life.
Upon his return, he found Elisha. Soon after that, he prophesied that both Ahab and Jezebel would die in disgrace, which, of course, happened.
Sadly, Ahab’s son, Ahaziah came to power with the same leanings as his father. He served Baal until he, too died, as prophesied by Elijah. Shortly thereafter, the Lord decided that it was time for Elijah to be called home. But his work was to be carried on by Elisha. One day, the two of them were walking by the Jordan River, near Jericho:
“11 And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. 12 And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces. 13 He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan; 14 And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the LORD God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over” (2 Kings 2:11-14).
In one dramatic moment, Elijah was gone, taken by a whirlwind that had the appearance of horses and a chariot. He had been raptured, if you will, taken in a cloudlike vehicle to heaven. We are reminded of Paul’s words, as he describes certain “clouds” that will take the raptured ones to heaven:
“16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Th. 4:16,17).
Certainly, these are no ordinary cumulus clouds; they must be heavenly vehicles of some sort.
FOURTH: RESURRECTION AND RAPTURE OF JESUS CHRIST
The high point of history is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the perfect fulfillment of a pattern which we have observed in the lives of Enoch, Moses and Elijah, Jesus came to a debased world that was dedicated to idolatry. The Graeco-Roman system of worship was nothing more than an adaptation of the same ancient Babylonian system that lifted up Baal and Ishtar. In the culture of the first century, the Babylonian Mystery religion and the cult of the Caesars thrived.
Corruption characterized Israel, too. The Idumean (Edomite) dynasty of pretenders to Israel’s throne were close conspirators with their Roman overlords. The priests and scribes of the Temple had developed a debased system of legalities based on Jewish Law. Under their tyrannical rule, ordinary Israelites were subjected to a soul-withering despotism. Jesus came upon this scene, precisely as prophesied by Daniel and other Old Testament prophets.
He offered Himself as the legitimate King of Israel and was rejected. He turned away from their false worship and began to teach about a new way of redemption, offering the Word, Bread, Water and vital, sinless Blood of the new birth.
Then he arose, in what might be called the grandest rapture of all time. We do not usually think of it as such, but really it is. As Paul said:
“20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. 21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. 24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power” (1 Cor. 15:20-24).
Those who are Christ’s at His coming are His members – the body of Christ – the church.
Paul presents Jesus as first of type. He is the model of that which will happen to all who believe in Him, at the rapture. Enoch, Moses and Elijah, as great as they were, only foreshadowed the ultimate work of Christ.
When He comes for the church, we shall be caught up in a resurrection that will closely resemble His own. As the Apostle John put it so elegantly, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn. 3:2).
As the fourth of seven raptures, Jesus fulfilled another type: He is the middle, or elevated Servant Lamp of the Temple Menorah’s seven lights! Across the span of redemptive history, He stands above, a ministering Spirit to a lost world. This is exactly the way he is pictured by John in the book of Revelation:
“And in the middle of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His breast with a golden girdle” (Rev. 1:13).
FIFTH: RAPTURE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT SAINTS
The righteous of the Old Testament era had patiently awaited the coming of their King. Now, He had come and He had risen. After His resurrection, a miraculous sign appeared, a signal of things to come:
“51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; 52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, 53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many”(Matt. 27:51-53). This brief mention of the Old Testament saints calls to mind the Jewish concept of Abraham’s bosom, that place in sheol where the righteous awaited the arrival and finished work of the Messiah. Though there is much mystery about the precise disposition of this place, an account given by Jesus, shows the reality of the underworld, (O.T. sheol) and the place where Abraham waited. A righteous beggar and an unrighteous rich man died. Both went to a place of waiting:
“22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; 23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:22,23).
Here, “hell” is the New Testament way of describing “sheol.” The question arises: What happened to those who waited in Abraham’s bosom at the resurrection of Christ?
The Scriptural answer is that they went with Christ to heaven. Many have commented upon this fact. Beginning with Paul’s account in Ephesians, they have concluded that Abraham and the righteous became a literal demonstration and exhibit to the citizens of heaven:
“7 But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. 8 Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. 9 (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things)” (Eph. 4:7-10).
Paul quotes a psalm of David, which prophesied that the Messiah would ascend to heaven with those faithful who, along with Abraham, had awaited His coming. From the cross, Jesus arose through the visible heavens, arriving at Heaven, itself, where He presented Himself as High Priest. He ascended through the territory of Satan, to God’s throne, where He presented the faithful before God.
This observation is affirmed in Colossians, where Paul, using slightly different language, tells us that Jesus led these faithful to heaven in a triumphal parade:
“14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; 15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Col. 2:14,15).
Can the ascent of the Old Testament saints rightfully be called a rapture? Certainly, yes, since they were led in a triumphal parade to heaven. Their experience was the very essence of being “caught up,” in the same way that the dead in Christ shall rise first.
SIXTH: THE RAPTURE OF THE CHURCH
With the five preceding examples to draw upon, the church awaits its own rapture. Each of these events lends its own depth and dimension to the most grand and complete event of its type in the history of the world, when the church is caught up. With history as our witness, it is easy to believe that the promise of the rapture is perfectly within the realm of possibility. Once we know where to look, the phenomenon is repeated in Scripture over and over again.
Taking them as a composite picture, we recall that each of the preceding rapture experiences took place during a crucial period of sin and idolatry. Without going into detail, most agree that we are living through another such era at the present time. Just as in the days of Enoch, Moses, Elijah, Jesus and the Old Testament saints, judgment is coming:
“2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. 3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief” (1 Th. 5:2-4).
The antediluvian world, Egypt, Israel and Judah, all suffered judgment. At the next rapture – that of the church – the whole world will be judged. Entire books are devoted to this idea, so we need not go into further detail. But there is one more stop on our biblical tour.
SEVENTH: THE RAPTURE OF THE TWO WITNESSES
During the Tribulation, two witnesses rise to world prominence. We believe them to be two men who had previously experienced rapture. That is, God personally took them both to heaven.
In their intertwined lives, we have seen prototypes of the great rapture and resurrection of the church. Though there is much discussion concerning their identities, we believe them to be Moses and Elijah (who also appeared to Peter, John and James on the mount of transfiguration). We come to this conclusion simply because they are both shown doing exactly what they did during their Old Testament ministries:
“4 These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth. 5 And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed. 6 These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will” (Rev. 11:4-6).
Moses turned the waters of Egypt to blood and Elijah withheld the rain from Israel for three and a half years … which just happens to be the length of the first half of the Tribulation. Each of them stands up to proclaim the Lord under horrible conditions of idolatry and depravity. They reprise the roles that they played earlier, this time in a larger and more dramatic way.
“11 And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them. 12 And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them” (Rev. 11:11, 12).
What a rapture! And notice once again, that it is accompanied by a “cloud.” As we have said before, this is no ordinary cloud. When the Lord moves, it is always with those clouds. One day, we’ll see them with our own eyes. In fact, Jesus told the high priest about them during His trial:
“63 But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. 64 Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:63,64).
And there we have it, seven key events, past and future. The rapture outlines history. Seven times, like the spiritual branches of the Menorah, it brings light to the dark world. Its center light, rising like a beacon, is none other than Jesus Christ!
Seven times, the Bible describes a rapture experience. Soon, those same clouds will come again — this time for us!