End of the World Countdown: Putting the Rapture Doctrine Under Apostolic Scrutiny
by Steve Sterling 11/11/2011 / Prophecy
Where a focus on events surrounding the Second Coming and the end of the world is concerned, there are several different views that are floating around in theological circles. The doctrine of the rapture seems to be one such teaching in which there are strong opinions on all sides. One of the things I notice about the use of the word 'rapture' is that whenever it is used it automatically conveys a certain meaning that can only be associated with a particular religious fraternity.
I guess that's the reason why the detractors of the rapture refrain from using that word to describe their teaching about the Second coming and the ascension of the church even though it would be perfectly legitimate to do so. After all, the meaning of the word rapture is 'to be caught up'. However, it is quite understandable why some people shy away from the use of the word 'rapture'; obviously, they do not want to give the false appearance of being an advocate of the teaching to which it is attached.
As we all should be aware by now, when we hear about the rapture it is almost always in reference to a secret ascension of the people of God before the great tribulation. According to this teaching, during this tribulation, the antichrist is to reign for seven years, at the end of which Christ will make His appearance to deliver those who went through the tribulation and who refused to take the mark of the beast.
Upon examining this teaching I saw two loopholes that can be exploited to the advantage of the rapture advocates. If you try to dispute the secret ascension on the basis of the Bible text that "the Lord will descend from heaven with a shout" 1Thess. 4:16, they will say that this will be after the tribulation. And if you confront them with texts such as Revelation 20:4 where John actually saw in vision the final triumph of the saints who went through the experience of the mark-of-the-beast crisis, they will simply tell you that these are the "tribulation saints" who were persecuted under the seven-year antichrist reign. And so you just cannot use this method to effectively disprove a secret rapture.
As with every Bible doctrine, the best way to verify this end-time teaching is to put it under the searching scrutiny of the apostles' doctrines. The apostles are the only divinely appointed authority in spiritual matters since the ascension of Christ. In affirming the divine inspiration of the apostolic teachings, the apostle Paul has made one of the boldest assertions that can ever be found in all of the scriptures. He declared:
"But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man peach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." Gal. 1:8, 9 (KJV)
Thus, the apostle Paul is holding up the teachings of himself and that of his fellow apostles as the standard by which all Bible teachings are adjudged. In this regard we are going to test the doctrine of the rapture on the basis of the "the apostles' doctrine and fellowship" (Acts 2:42) as represented in the epistles of Paul. This can be the only basis of verification for the very fact that they too were looking forward to the Second Coming and the end of the world in their time. Therefore, whatever the expected event he has in mind, it should be clearly communicated in his letters to the different churches.
One of the clearest representation of what the apostles were looking forward to as the consummation of there hopes of eternal redemption is clearly expressed in the following admonition to the church in Thessalonica:
"Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition." 2Thess. 2:1, 2 (KJV)
From the testimony above we can safely conclude that "the day of Christ" that Paul was anticipating will not come before the coming of the man of sin (aka the antichrist). Contrary to what the doctrine of the rapture suggests, he was actually expecting to go through a tribulation before the day of his ascension!
That the apostle Paul himself was expecting to be apart of the Second-Advent experience is made crystal clear in the following statement:
"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: 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." 1Thess. 4:16, 17
Concerning the return of Christ and the end of the world, there are two things that Paul is saying here:
1. He was expecting to be caught up with the saints of his time to meet the Lord at His appearance.
2. He was expecting to be alive at the time when this event takes place!
The countdown of end of the world events from the epistles of Paul represents all the teachings of the other apostles on the same subject. From what we see in his letters, one of two questions would immediately come to mind: was Paul telling the truth about the Second Coming? Or, if we should accept his word as true, does the teaching of the rapture fulfills the specifications of "another gospel" in its deviation from "the apostles' doctrine and fellowship" (Acts 2:42)? Paul must have foreseen the many spurious doctrines on the Second Advent in our day why he had to issue the admonition: "Let no man deceive you by any means" (2Thess. 2:3)!