The Rapture and the Appearing

F. B. Hole.

It is an actual fact that the Lord Jesus Christ is coming back again! Yet many people, even true believers, seem hardly to believe it. It seems to them a dreamy, visionary, mystical idea, and they cannot help thinking that the enthusiasts who announce it must be mistaking figures of speech for sober facts.

But, after all, why should you be surprised? You believe that He has been here once. Then why not twice?

Consider for a moment what happened when He first came. He was rejected, and His life was cut short. His public mission of three and a half years closed in His sudden death. But being God manifest in flesh, in dying He wrought redemption for His people; He rose again. Is it likely that the story ends there as far as this earth is concerned? Shall the ejection of the Creator from the world by the creature be the last word? By no means. Men despised Him in His humiliation. He will surely return in His glory.

We are not left, however, to consider what seems likely or reasonable. The doctrine of the Second Advent is one of the commonest themes of Scripture. The Old Testament frequently refers to it. In the New Testament the full truth of it is plainly revealed. From the great mass of texts that might be quoted, let us select one which is singularly explicit.

"Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11).

This message has about it almost the sound of a legal document. Lawyers write a very simple statement in a rather lengthy way because they find it needful to hedge about their words from possible misinterpretations. So here there is a fulness and almost a redundancy of expression, especially designed to foil any attempt to evade or mystify this great fact.

It is evident from this verse that the Lord Jesus is Himself coming just as He went. How did He go? Personally; then personally He will come. He went actually as a living Man - it was no spirit manifestation. Then actually as a living Man He will come. He went visibly; visibly He will come. He went from the earth. Then to the earth He will return.

The attentive Christian reader, however, is often puzzled as he pursues his studies into this great truth, by seeming discrepancies between different passages, and he needs to have placed in his hands the key that unlocks the door of difficulty.

That key is an understanding of the difference between the two stages of the Second Advent, which for the sake of brevity we term "The Rapture" (i.e., "the catching-up") and "The Appearing."

Take the trouble at this point to thoughtfully read 1 Thessalonians 4:13 to 1 Thess. 5:3. Notice that the Thessalonian believers were troubled because some of their number had died, and they thought that they would therefore miss the glory of the appearing and reign of Christ. Paul tells them not to sorrow, because as certainly as Jesus died and rose again, God will bring WITH Jesus all such when He comes (v. 9). Then the Apostle explains how this is to be brought about, by what means the formerly dead in Christ are found with Him in bodies of glory so as to be able to share in His glorious appearing.

This explanation is prefaced by "this we say to you by the word of the Lord," indicating that what follows is not something which had been previously made known, but something newly revealed: his authority for stating it being not Old Testament scripture, nor any previous utterance, but the direct revelation of the Lord.

And this is the explanation: "The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout … and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 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."

Now compare these words with what is written in 1 Corinthians 15:51-54, and you will find an additional fact stated. "The dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed."

In the light of these two scriptures we gather that:
  (1) The Lord Himself shall descend into the air with an assembling shout.
  (2) His shout will awaken the sleeping saints and raise them in bodies of glory.
  (3) We, the living, will then undergo a corresponding change into a glorified condition.
  (4) All believers, whether previously dead or living, will be caught up together, to be for ever with the Lord.
Oh, most blessed hour, the fruition of our long-cherished hope!

All this, however, leaves the great world untouched, save as the sudden disappearance of multitudes of saints may affect it. But the hour of retribution follows on. Hence 1 Thessalonians 5 opens by drawing a distinction between the coming of the Lord for His saints with which chapter 4 has dealt, and "the day of the Lord." That comes, not as a bridegroom for his bride, but "as a thief in the night."

When the Lord Jesus in humiliation was led as a lamb to the slaughter, He said to His enemies, "This is your hour, and the power of darkness" (Luke 22:53). But the tables are to be completely turned. He comes not in humiliation, but in glory; not as a lamb to the slaughter, but as the Lion of the tribe of Judah; not solitary and alone, but "with ten thousands of His saints"; not submitting to the will of His enemies, but that His enemies may be made His footstool. It is not man's little hour, and the short-lived triumph of evil; it is the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

"The day of the Lord" is not a day of twenty-four hours, but an interval of time like "the day of salvation." It is a period in the cycle of "times and seasons" marked by the absolute supremacy and authority of the Lord. It starts with His public manifestation in the clouds of heaven - His appearing with His saints.

It is to this public appearing that Old Testament prophets so frequently refer, being the consummation of God's ways with Israel and the earth. It ushers in a short, sharp work of judgment whereby the earth is purged of its dross before the shining forth of glory in the millennial reign of Christ.

Before this public appearing certain things must take place as foretold in Scripture. The Lord Jesus Himself plainly predicted certain things (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21). Again 2 Thessalonians 2 shows us that before the day of Christ comes there must first be "a falling away," an apostasy, and connected with that, the revelation of the man of sin, commonly called "antichrist." In him sin will find its culminating expression. He will be its very embodiment.

When the iniquity of man rises then to its full height God will smite in judgment. The Lord Jesus, who once bore judgment for our sakes, is then to be its Executor, and that oldest of all prophecies given through the lips of a man will be fulfilled: "Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints to execute judgment upon all" (Jude 14, 15). Previously the saints will have been "changed" according to 1 Corinthians 15, and "caught up" according to 1 Thessalonians 4, hence they are with Him in a glorified condition, and when the heavens open and reveal Him in the "flaming fire" of judgment, they are with Him, and He will be "glorified in His saints" and "admired in all them that believe … in that day" (2 Thess. 1:7-10).

Meanwhile our business is "to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven" (1 Thess. 1:9-10).

May not what you call the Rapture be just a beautiful and poetic way of speaking of the death of a saint, and the Appearing be what is commonly called "the end of the world"?

The death of a saint is thus described in Scripture: "To depart and to be with Christ" (Phil. 1:23). Is there no difference between our going to be with Christ and His coming for us? Further, when the saint dies and goes to be with Christ, his body is laid IN the grave. When Christ comes for His saints according to 1 Thessalonians 4, He takes all their bodies OUT of the graves. Are these one and the same thing?

No. The coming of the Lord for His saints is not death, but the deliverance of His people from the last vestige of death. The appearing of Christ with His saints is not "the end of the world," by which people generally mean the winding up of the heavens and the earth in their present condition. Revelation 19, speaks of the Lord's appearing in glory. Revelation 20 shows the result, Satan restrained and a thousand years of blessing for this weary old earth. After that - the end.

In this case would there not be two comings, a third Advent after the second?

No. Frequently in Scripture the coming of the Lord is spoken of in a general way without referring definitely to either of its two stages. The Rapture and the Appearing are only two parts or stages of the one coming. When the King visits the City of London in state, the Lord Mayor and sheriffs meet him at Temple Bar, and after certain ceremonies they take their place in the procession behind him and re-enter the City, accompanying him to the Guildhall or wherever he is going.

Even so will it be at the coming of Christ. Caught up into the air to meet Him, we shall shortly after return with Him to share in His glorious kingdom.

What signs should we look for as indicating that the Lord's coming is near?

If the appearing be in question, then such scriptures as 2 Thessalonians 2, 2 Timothy 3, and Matthew 24 supply the answer. The rising tide of apostasy in Christendom; the prevalence of false prophets deceiving many; the extraordinary awakening of the Jewish race, i.e., the fig tree putting forth leaves according to Matthew 24:32; the increasing carelessness of the world deceived into false security by its own achievements and saying "Peace and safety"; all these things and others of which we are witnesses indicate that we draw nigh to the end of this age.

But all these things are portents of the Appearing. As to the Rapture which precedes it, no signs are to be looked for. It is an event outside the calculation of times and seasons. These belong to the earth, as the opening verse of 1 Thessalonians 5 shows, and there was no need for the apostle to write to the Thessalonians on the subject. But as to the Rapture, which is not connected with times and seasons, there was a very distinct need that he should write to them.

There is nothing awaiting fulfilment before Christ comes for His saints. He may come at any moment.

Must not the world be converted first?

That question would not be asked were it not that an unscriptural idea exists on the subject. Nowhere in the Bible is the conversion of the whole world by preaching of the Gospel either stated or implied. The Gospel is preached by command of God for the gathering out of the nations a people for His Name (Acts 15:14). The world will not be converted, but rather purified by judgment which will remove the workers of evil and subjugate the earth to God. "When Thy judgments [not Thy Gospel] are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness" (Isa. 26:9).

Will all Christians be caught up at the Rapture?

Undoubtedly. To illustrate the truth of the Rapture, the effect of a strong magnet held over steel filings when mixed with sand has been used. It is a good illustration, only this must be remembered: Christians are not only like so many individual steel filings, they are by the Holy Ghost livingly connected together. They are "one flock," one family, "one body." When the Lord Jesus comes He will take His Church as one living entity, His body and His bride. Mutilated fragments will not be left behind.

The idea that some Christians will be left behind seems to crop up in two directions.

First, we have the prophets of various latter day apostasies from the truth. Some of them teach that only "living," "faithful," "watching" Christians will be taken. Their "faithfulness" is manifested by their reception of the teachings of the false prophet in question! Comment on this is needless.

Secondly, true Christians have run away with the idea that only "watching" believers are caught up, from such a Scripture as the following: "Unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin to salvation" (Heb. 9:28).

After all, however, where can you find a true Christian who is not looking for Him? You can find many who are very unintelligent, who do not understand the truth of His coming, who have never heard of "the Rapture." Yet they look for Christ. He is the hope of their hearts, though they know not how that hope shall be fulfilled.

The fact is, the expression "them that look for Him," like "them that love God," (Rom. 8:28) is just a Bible way of describing believers. If a man does not love God, nor look for Christ, he cannot be called a Christian.

After all, is not this teaching concerning the Second Advent rather speculative? Is there any real use in it?

It is no more speculative than the teaching divinely given to Noah concerning the approaching flood, or the prophecies given to Israel during centuries concerning the first coming of the Saviour. Difficulties may be raised as to details where Scripture is silent, and men may disagree and mystify matters as to the second coming just as the scribes succeeded in mystifying their generation as to the first coming. But the broad outlines of the truth as to it stand clear and plain in Scripture, and the event is sure.

As to the use of this truth, it will be found in practice that no fact exercises a more solemnizing effect on the consciences of sinners. No truth has a more separating effect upon believers. Shall we join hand in hand with the world which is shortly to come under judgment? No. "Every man that has this hope in Him [Christ] purifies himself even as He is pure" (1 John 3:3). He whose hope is in Christ and His speedy return puts far from him every defiling thing.

Do you believe that the "Rapture of the saints" is now very near?

Yes. Foolish attempts have been made to fix dates for the Lord's return, thus contravening His own words. Earnest believers, too, have allowed themselves to use extravagant language, giving the impression that they were certain it could not be distant more than a year or two. Years have passed, and those who listened to these expressions have become sceptical as to the whole thing.

The truth remains, however: He is coming, and that quickly. Everything, both in the church and in the world, points to the closing up of this age. Therefore we lift up our heads and expect Him.

Entering a Christian's room the other day my eye fell on these words framed like a text and hung on the wall,

"Perhaps today."

I knew what it meant. That is the right attitude. His coming is certainly near. May we rise each morning with this thought: perhaps He may come to-day; and may we so purify ourselves in holiness before Him that our unchecked response may gladly be: "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."