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Deceptive early departure rapture doctrines: A wise virgin’s guide to waiting for the Bridegroom Part 3.2

apocalypse movie Left Behind movie collection

The word “rapture” does not appear anywhere in the Bible. It is a term used to denote a time when Jesus returns and takes His church (those still living and the righteous dead) to be with Him. There are three main theories about when the rapture of the church will occur. Some believe the church will be raptured before the Tribulation, some believe it will happen mid-Tribulation, and some believe it will happen after the Tribulation. Given what the book of Revelation tells us about what will happen in the Tribulation, it is not surprising that the pre-Tribulation rapture is the most attractive and popular of these three beliefs. Movies have been made about this and many books have been written that portray a pre-Tribulation rapture (e.g. Apocalypse and the Left Behind books and movies). Since the pre-Tribulation rapture is so popular, I will focus in its tenets. For the purposes of this post, I will refer to the pre-Tribulation and mid-Tribulation rapture theories both as an Early Departure Rapture (EDR). I will show that an EDR is not supported by Scripture and is ultimately harmful to its believers. Before we go further, it would be helpful to describe what the Bible says will happen in the rapture. After that, it will be possible to examine if the EDR theory is accurate.

One of the most cited Scriptures about the rapture is probably found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church:

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 imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”  “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Cor 15:51-57 (ESV)

The Lord Himself also tells us this about the rapture:

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Matt 24:29-31 (ESV)

These two places in Scripture will be the starting point for this examination of EDR theory.

EDR apologists believe that the church will be raptured before the Great Tribulation because we are not destined for the wrath that will be poured out in the Tribulation. The case of Lot in Genesis might be cited as support for this view because he had to be removed from Sodom before God destroyed the city. In this view, the Lord’s appearance in the air is a separate event from His Second Coming. There is the Lord’s return Part 1 and Part 2.

The two Scriptures already cited do not support this EDR theory. Jesus said clearly that the elect would not be gathered until the trumpet sounds. Revelation tells that seven trumpets will sound, and it won’t be until the seventh and last trumpet sounds that the Lord will gather His children to Himself:

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”

Rev 11:15 (ESV)

When the seventh trumpet sounds, the first resurrection takes place and those who are alive and remain will be caught up to be with the Lord. When does the seventh trumpet sound? Jesus tells us exactly when it will sound:

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

Matt 24:29 (ESV)

We are presented with the following problems with an EDR:

  1. In order for an EDR to be true, Jesus would have had to come for His church twice: once before the Tribulation and once afterwards. Jesus never mentions returning more than once. His own words tell us He won’t come back for us until the Tribulation is at its end. When the Lord returns, He will gather His church to Himself, set up His tabernacle among us, and begin His thousand year reign.
  2. The fact that the Lord returns once is also verified by the parable of the Ten Virgins since it is also a picture of the Lord’s return, and this parable does not give us any reason to believe that the Bridegroom would make two appearances. The Bridegroom returns once, and those virgins who are ready are taken in; those virgins who are not ready are left out.
  3. There are two resurrections in Scripture. They are the resurrection of the righteous and the wicked. The rapture includes two events: the taking away of the church remnant that is still alive and the resurrection of the righteous. If Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15:51-57) is used as evidence for the EDR, it means that the resurrection of the righteous occurred when Christ returned invisibly before the Tribulation (Part 1). If there is only one resurrection of the righteous, we have a problem because Revelation tells us that many saints will be martyred in the Tribulation. That means the Tribulation martyrs would miss out on the resurrection of the righteous if it is true that this resurrection happens before the Tribulation. The only way to solve this would be if there was also a supplemental resurrection of the righteous after the Tribulation (e.g. Part 1 and Part 2). Scripture does not give any support for more than one resurrection of the righteous. Since the gathering of the elect and the resurrection of the righteous occur at the same time and only once, a bifurcated resurrection would not be supported by Scripture (See Rev 20: 4-6).
  4. Movies and books portray an EDR in which the Lord returns invisibly and takes away His church before the Tribulation, but Scripture clearly tells us that the Lord will not return until the seventh trumpet sounds after the Tribulation (Matt 24: 29). When He does return, it will not be invisibly; everyone will see Him (Matt 24: 30; Rev 1: 7).

There are more problems that could be added, but this will do for now. If we follow the clear teaching of Scripture that the rapture will not occur until after the Tribulation, we have none of these problems. Let us now examine the next question. If an EDR belief is untenable, does it follow that belief in an EDR is harmful? I believe it is, and I would like to reference an actual event that many of us will remember.

Harold Camping first predicted that the rapture would occur on May 21, 2011, but later amended his prediction to Oct 21, 2011 when his first predicted date failed. He backed up his confidence in this by investing large sums of money in billboards and other advertising about his prediction; people who believed him also contributed their time and resources to help spread his message about the coming rapture. I would like to relate one interview I remember from this movement that is applicable to this topic. I will refer to the couple interviewed as Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

The Smiths were believers in Harold Camping’s prediction, and they sincerely felt the right thing to do was help bring this news to as many people as possible. They told the interviewer some interesting things. They said it was amazing how the Lord was working with them to make their efforts come to pass. Mr. Smith said the Lord made it possible for him to quit his job and minister full time. The Smiths also attributed the Lord’s help in this because they had just enough resources to last right up to the “last day,” after which they would be penniless. They weren’t bothered about this because they were going to be raptured, so money would no longer be a concern. It was a tremendous testimony, they felt, how the Lord was able to make everything come together like this.

The Lord did not return on May 21 or Oct 21, 2011 as Harold Camping predicted. He claimed that he had made a careful study of Scripture and this enabled him to calculate the date of the rapture. The whole endeavor was an exercise in futility because Scripture tells us no one knows the day or hour of His return (Matt 24: 36). After the failure of Camping’s prediction, the Smiths were left destitute, but hopefully wiser for what they experienced. I am sure Harold Camping made a convincing case for his prediction because he had many followers, but the truth of Scripture proved him wrong. In a very real way, the case of Harold Camping’s prediction and the case of the Smith family illustrate the harmful effects of EDR belief.

Since EDR is not supported by Scripture, it gives people a false sense of security. EDR believers feel that they have a “get out of the Tribulation” card, and as such they do not need to make any preparations for living through the Tribulation. Just like the Smith family did not make any provision for what would happen after Oct 21, 2011 (after all, they weren’t supposed to be here), EDR believers also think that it’s unnecessary to prepare for the Tribulation since they won’t be here either. Instead of preparing like the wise virgins while they still have time, they follow the course of the foolish virgins and don’t prepare. The tragedy is that they won’t have the oil they need when the Bridegroom returns, and it’s all because they thought they wouldn’t be here for the Tribulation. Just as Harold Camping’s prediction failed because of Matt 24: 36, the expectations for an EDR will fail because of Matt 24: 29. We will be here for the Tribulation, so stock up on oil like a wise virgin while the markets are still open! When the darkness comes, no one can work.

May 21 2011 Doomsday billboard

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Deceptive doctrines: A wise virgin’s guide to waiting for the Bridegroom Part 3.1

Deceptive doctrines are part of the reason the foolish virgins were excluded when the Bridegroom arrived, so this post will examine three deceptive doctrines that are prominent in foolish virgin thinking: Once saved, always saved (OSAS), pre and mid tribulation rapture, and the doctrine that the gifts of the Spirit were only intended for the days of the Apostles and are not active today. This post will examine the doctrine of one saved always saved.

Like all deceptions, this doctrine does contain an element of truth. Unfortunately, it is not true to the entire counsel of Scripture. OSAS tells its devotees that once they have made their initial commitment to Christ, they are sealed forever and will never be lost again. They may anchor their belief in Scriptures such as:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:37-39 (ESV)

To be sure, we can never be separated from the Rock of our Salvation, and this truth has brought comfort to Christians throughout the ages. But does this mean that once I am saved, I am always saved? It’s time to be Berean (Acts 17: 10-11).

Scripture gives us many assurances about our salvation, but does it verify that once I am saved, I am always saved? There are at least two major problems with this doctrine: It ignores clear warnings of Scripture about sinning after salvation, and it creates a false sense of security.

It denies clear warnings about sinning after salvation

Scripture tells us that sin is very serious. It is the wall that separates us from God and keeps Him from hearing our prayers. Jesus’ work on the cross broke down that dividing wall and gave us access to God’s throne of grace. Once a person receives God’s gift of salvation, he is whiter that snow. OSAS says that he will always be whiter than snow, but that’s not what Scripture tells us.
Paul uses the history of Israel to illustrate an inconvenient truth, not everyone who starts out finishes:

For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
1 Cor 10:1-12 (ESV)

Paul wasn’t just giving a history lesson about Israel’s past; he was also illustrating a spiritual truth about what can happen if we don’t deal decisively with sin and rebellion. This is similar to Paul’s use of Sarah and Hagar’s story to illustrate two covenants (Gal 4: 21-31). All Israel had the same starting point: “all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink” just as we have been baptized and all of us have drunk from the Rock of Christ. Even though they started well, the people of Israel rebelled and were overthrown. Just as rebellion disqualified Israel from entering the Promised Land, it can also disqualify us from His eternal rest. This example was given to us as a warning so that we would not follow the same course of destruction. Even though they were God’s chosen people, God was not pleased with many of them. If OSAS is true, then Paul doesn’t know what he is talking about. Why warn people about a consequence that has no possibility of happening?

If there is no possibility of ever losing salvation, this complicates reading the Scriptures because they clearly tell us something else. Here are some problem points:

Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matt 24:45-51 (ESV)

Jesus uses this parable to teach us two different outcomes for the people of faith. There are two servants of the same master. On the one hand, there is the wise and faithful servant who receives the master’s reward when he returns. On the other hand, there is the servant who acts faithlessly and lives like the world. He was totally unprepared for the master’s return and he was cast out. If OSAS is true, then this cannot happen. Both are servants of the same master, so in a sense, if both are saved, then both should receive the same reward. Jesus does not teach this here.

In the parable of the talents, Jesus shows another way servants can be disqualified:

He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Matt 25:24-30 (ESV)

Once again, all of the servants served the same master. They all received resources from the master to do business with until his return, which indicated they were in the master’s favor and had an equal standing. The problem is that one of them did not do the will of the master; he squandered the resources and time he had to accomplish his master’s will just like the foolish virgins. When the master found out about this, he ordered this unprofitable servant thrown into a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. This can only be a place of eternal separation and destruction. The question remains: If OSAS is true, why does Jesus tell us a scenario in which a believer loses salvation?

The writer of Hebrews weighs in on the possibility of being disqualified as well:

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
Heb 6:4-6 (ESV)

The writer is clearly portraying a believer in this passage, and it reads very similar to Paul’s passage in 1 Cor 10: 1-12. If OSAS is valid, why does the writer of Hebrews give such a dire warning about falling away? How can you ever fall away if OSAS is true?

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Heb 10:26-31 (ESV)

The writer of Hebrews is clearly speaking about the possibility of losing salvation when a believer engages in a course of deliberate sinning (as in Mt 24: 48-51): “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” You cannot say that the writer of Hebrews is true and OSAS are true at the same time.

My last Scripture come from Peter:

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”
2 Peter 2:20-22 (ESV)

Peter is clearly addressing the fact that there will be some believers who fall away from the holy commandment that was given to them. If OSAS is true, then this cannot happen to a believer. Peter warns us that this can happen, and if we are not careful, we will be overcome again by the sin which so easily entangles us. “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it” Heb 4:1 (ESV).

OSAS creates a false sense of security.

People put their confidence in many things that give them a false sense of security. A rich many puts his trust in his wealth, a king puts his trust in his chariots and army, an idolater puts his confidence in his idols, a leader puts his confidence in the high and strong walls of his citadel. We already know from Scripture that these things may give the appearance of safety and security, but the truth of God’s word shows them for the vain hope they give. A rich man’s wealth will not deliver in the day of judgment, an army cannot prevail unless the Lord gives the victory, an idol cannot help because there is only one God, and no citadel can stand if the Lord does not watch over the city to defend it.

In the same manner, if a person thinks that he is always saved no matter what he does after salvation, it follows that a careless and carefree attitude must eventually take hold in his mind. He slowly begins to drift from holiness to friendship with the world. It escapes his notice that weeds (the cares of this life) have already taken root in his heart and are already choking the word. Sin and disobedience are also at work hardening his heart against the word of God. OSAS deceives him into thinking that the law has no hold on him and that he has a kind of immunity from ever losing the crown of life. He can eventually get to the point where he beats his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, and as such he is entangled and overcome again by the very things he was delivered from. When his master returns, he will find out too late that OSAS was a false security in the same way wealth was to the rich man.

My beloved, we are under grace, but that does not mean that our actions cease to have consequences; sin and rebellion can still disqualify a believer from eternal life. Sin can still easily entangle a foolish virgin. Do not let the world, the flesh or the devil persuade you to give up your birthright for a bowl of soup. The Lord did not endure the suffering of the cross just so we could live like the world. Get your house in order. Abide in Him, and He will keep you safe.

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A message for the Fourth of July

Today we celebrate our Independence Day, and this is a time we ought to celebrate. But if we want to continue to celebrate our independence, then we have to acknowledge an inconvenient reality. We are in a rare cycle of four blood moons, each occurring on a feast of the Jewish calendar. God is using signs in the heavens to tell us that something serious is on the way, and the time to get our house in order is now. On the Jewish calendar, next year is also a shemittah year, when debts are cancelled. In the Torah, debts were cancelled every seven years. The previous shemittah years marked historic events in our history. There was the 9/11 attack of 2001 and in 2008 the stock market crashed 777 points. Given what has happened these past shemittah years, it would be wise to be reconciled with God now before the next shemittah year of 2015.

This nation needs to humble itself and seek God for reconciliation while there is still time. When the bricks have fallen, and the sycamores have been cut down as they have in America (Isaiah 9:10), the answer is not to be defiant and rebuild with dressed stones or replace the sycamores with cedars. The answer is repentance. We cannot (and history verifies this) maintain a course of life that is at variance with the Almighty and just expect He will remain aloof. Israel tried a course of defiance, and the result was increasing oppression, injustice and immorality. The nation experienced loss of national power, prestige, and sovereignty; Israel was subjugated by enemy states, and finally exiled. America is not so big and powerful that God cannot humble her the same way. The choice before us is simple: We can learn from history and do the right thing, or we can ignore history and repeat it. If we want to preserve our nation, we must repent.

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