CAN JESUS RETURN TODAY?
If the "imminent return of Jesus Christ" doctrine is true, then it would have had to have been taught by the early church and the apostle Paul. Remember, they had two primary things to go on in teaching and preaching the truth. One, they had the Tenach (Old Testament) due to the fact that the New Testament had not yet been written. Secondly, they had Jesus' teachings and instructions. So if "the imminent return of Jesus" was true then Jesus Himself would have made it very clear. So let us examine this doctrine and see what we find out.
First, if the "imminent return of Jesus Christ" doctrine is true, then it would seem that the disciples would have remained in Jerusalem, waiting for His return. But they could not have believed such a doctrine to be true because Jesus had just given them a commission to go into all the world and preach the gospel. That takes time. The Gentiles had to hear the gospel before Jesus' return, which has taken around 2,000 years so far. There had to be inventions of the printing press, airplanes, radio, television, satellite, the internet and other means in order for the gospel to go forth over the centuries, especially in these last days in order to reach the world. Jesus told us in Matthew 28:19, 20 to "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen."
Secondly, the New Testament had to be
written, which took at least until AD 90 to 95 when John wrote the book
of Revelation, thus completing the 27 books of the New Testament. The Apostle Peter did not die until A.D. 65, and we
also remember that the apostle Paul wrote his epistles over a period of
decades. He most definitely did not believe in the "imminent return of
Jesus Christ," as we will show from the scriptures that he wrote. He
was also commissioned by Jesus Christ Himself to take the gospel to the
Gentiles, which took time.
The Lord Jesus Christ told His followers that they would be hated by all nations. "Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake." Matthew 24:9. Today, more and more followers of Jesus Christ are being killed for their faith than any time in modern history as nation after nation continues to reject Him as their Savior and King. So, the teaching that Jesus Christ could return at any moment is not true. At the end of this teaching we will disclose where this false teaching began. Now we will deal with a "Pre-tribulation Rapture." Is this doctrine true?
THE PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE: TRUE OR FALSE?
As we examine the biblical text, we
find two things that must transpire before Jesus returns for His church
and it is taken out, or raptured.
FIRST: The Great Apostasy
Before the Church is raptured there must come the great apostasy, or falling away of many who have professed Christ as their Savior. These will be people who have been saved, but, for one reason or another, reject serving Christ Jesus any longer and go back into the world. We see this happening today as multitudes are leaving the church, being caught up in New Age doctrines, Far Eastern religions and the things of the world. According to Webster's Dictionary, apostasy means "an abandoning of what one has believed in, as a faith, cause, principles, etc." The Apostle Paul addresses this in II Thessalonians 2:1-3, which proves he did not believe in "imminency" or a pre-tribulation" rapture.
"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 (apostasy) first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition (antichrist); who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. "
II Thessalonians 2:1-3. KJV
This is why we are to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Jesus told us in Matthew 24:9,10, Amplified Bible
"Then they will hand you over to
suffer affliction and tribulation and put you to death, and you will be
hated by all nations for My name's sake. And then many will be offended
and repelled and will begin to distrust and desert (Him Whom they ought
to trust and obey) and will stumble and fall away and betray one
another and pursue one another with hatred."
The apostle Paul says in I Timothy 4:1: "Now the spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall
depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines
Colossians 1:21-23 says, "And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel..."
Hebrews 3:14 tells us, "For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end."
This is why so many times in Scripture, especially in Revelation, it says that "He who overcomes" will make heaven. There are many more Scriptures we could give but these are enough to show that apostasy happens.
This apostasy is both "moral" and "theological." Not only are people turning away from Christ Jesus today, but heretical theology is being taught in churches and seminaries, even denying the virgin birth, resurrection and return of the Lord Jesus. Both moral and theological apostasy is going to increase at an accelerated rate in these last days before Jesus returns but the great apostasy is yet to come. Jesus also emphasized two things that would be prevelant before He returned; lawlessness and deception. We are seeing this happening today in every facet of society.
SECOND: The Unveiling of the Antichrist
The second thing that has to happen before the church is raptured is the unveiling of the Antichrist. II Thessalonians 2:7, 8 says
"For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth (restrains) will let (restrain), until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked (Antichrist) be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming":
The popular teaching today says that the church is the restraining force, and when the church is raptured then the Antichrist is revealed. That is not what the biblical text says. It is very clear that the Antichrist will be revealed before the church is raptured. We do not yet know what the restraining force is, but it is not the church. Again, we repeat what the Apostle Paul said.
"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; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. " II Thessalonians 2:1-3. KJV
Verse 3 in the Amplified Bible says, "Let no one deceive or beguile you in any way, for that day (the rapture) will not come except the apostasy comes first (unless the predicted great falling away of those who have professed to be Christians has come) and the man of lawlessness (sin) is revealed, who is the son of doom (of perdition)..." Emphasis mine.
The apostle Paul is very clear in the
above scriptures, that the church will not be taken out (raptured)
before the great apostasy, and the Antichrist is revealed. You cannot
have it both ways, in that the restraining force in II Thessalonians 2:7
is the church, and when the church is raptured, then the
Antichrist is revealed. That is not what the biblical text says. It is
very clear that the Antichrist will be revealed before the church is
raptured. We do not know what the restraining force is, but it is not
the church. Now let us go to the book of Revelation for further
THE MARTYRED SAINTS
According to the scriptures, there will be two future resurrections. The resurrection of the saints, and the resurrection of the damned--those who rejected Christ in their life before they died. The resurrection of the saints takes place when the voice of the archangel shouts, the trumpet of God sounds, and Jesus Christ returns in the air to take His church home. Those saints who have died will come out of their graves and be caught up together with those saints who are still alive at His return. This coming in the air is to give His saints glorified bodies, and to take them to Heaven.
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep (who have died) in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 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. Wherefore comfort one another with these words. I Thessalonians 4:13-18. Emphasis Mine.
This is called the "first resurrection." But when is the "first resurrection?" Is it before the tribulation period begins, and could it happen at "any moment?" Let us look at Revelation 20, verses 4 through 6.
"And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands: and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead (those who rejected Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord when they lived on earth) lived not again until the thousand years were finished: this is "the first resurrection." Blessed and holy is he that hath part in "the first resurrection": on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years."
In the above scriptures it tells us
there will be saints who will not worship the beast, or his image, or will not
receive his mark will be beheaded. If we understand the scriptures
correctly, then this is during the tribulation period. But these
scriptures also tell us that these martyred saints are part of the
"first resurrection." What does that mean? It means that the church
will be here during some of the tribulation period. There is only one
"first resurrection", and that is for the church. The living and the
dead in Christ. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot have the
church taken out in the rapture at the "first resurrection" and not
include these martyrs during the tribulation period. They are part of
the "first resurrection" also. And since the church is still here
during some of the tribulation period, then the "imminent return of
Jesus Christ" cannot be true because today the tribulation period has not yet
begun because, nor has the Mark of the Beast been issued.
The scripture in Revelation 3:10 has been used by pre-tribulation proponents to say the church will be taken out before the tribulation period, but is that what it says? Let us examine it.
"Because you have kept My commandment to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world." Revelation 3:10.
To "keep" is the Greek word "tereo", which means "to watch over, to preserve: it is used of the keeping power of God the Father and Christ, exercised over His people." Vines Expository Dictionary, Page 287.
Jesus used the same phrase in John 17:15 when He asks the Father God not to take His disciples out of the world but to keep them from the evil while they were in the world so they could finish their work.
"I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil."
So Revelation 3:10 is not talking about a rapture but about God's keeping power over His people during the tribulation period. The teaching that the Church will be raptured before the tribulation period and then others will be saved during the tribulation period is false. Jesus has only one Church, one Bride, and He is not going to split His Bride in half and take some out pre-tribulation and some post-tribulation. That is nonsense!
Revelation 7:9, 10, 13 14. speaks of the saints who have come out of great tribulation, have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
"After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man cloud number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms (palm branches) in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb...And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."
This is the Church that the above verses are talking about.
The Tribulation Temple
Since the Antichrist will be revealed before the Church is raptured, the Temple in Jerusalem must be rebuilt because the Antichrist will enter it and commit the "abomination of desolation." Today, although everything is ready for the Temple to be rebuilt, it has not happened yet but will happen very soon.
A Jewish Revival
Another event that must take place before the Church is raptured is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the grafting of the Jewish people who will be saved back into their own olive tree, thus making the Church complete. The "One new man" according to Romans 11:24. God is not going to rapture a predominantly Gentile Church.
EARLY CHURCH FATHERS BELIEF
What about the early Church Fathers? Did they believe in a pre-tribulation rapture? No, not one of them! The apostles John and Paul did not believe in it, nor did Barnabas. Also, Polycarp (70-168 A.D.), who was a disciple of John the Beloved, did not believe in a pre-tribulation rapture, and if anyone should have known, it would have been John and Polycarp, since John received the book of Revelation. Others who believed the Church would go through the tribulation are Justin Martyr (100-167 A.D.), Irenaeus (138-202 A.D.), Augustine (354-430 A.D.), John Wycliffe (1320-1384 A.D.), John Calvin (1505-1564 A.D.), Matthew Henry (1662-1714 A.D.), Jonathan Edwards (1703-1738 A.D.), George Muller (1805-1898 A.D.), and many others. Their views are on line if you want to look them up.
WHERE DID THE PRE-TRIBULATION RAPTURE DOCTRINE COME FROM?
First of all, there are no know writings of a pre-tribulation rapture before 1830. It was only when a young 15 year old girl named Margaret McDonald from Port Glasgow, Scotland said she had a dream of a pre-tribulation rapture that it came about. In 1831 or 1832 a Presbyterian pastor named Edward Irving found out about her dream and began teaching a pre-tribulation rapture to his congregation.
Later, John Darby, founder of the Plymouth Brethren began teaching a pre-tribulation rapture after visiting Margaret McDonald. And in 1917 when C. I. Scofield published his improved edition reference bible, he included in it John Darby's teaching on a pre-tribulation rapture. This then began to be taught in bible colleges and churches and is now a prominent doctrinal belief among most main-line denominations and bible schools.
So! If the "imminent return of Jesus
Christ" is not true, then when is the rapture? We know that it cannot
be pre-tribulation because the "great apostasy," and the "unveiling of
the Antichrist" has not yet taken place, as Paul states in II
Thessalonians 2:1-3. Nor has the Mark of the Beast been issued and
saints martyred because they will not receive the Mark. One thing we do
know is that there will be a rapture. If we must be martyred for the
sake of Christ, so be it. We know that every saint will not be martyred
because there are those who will be alive at the coming of the Lord to
meet Him in the air. We must prepare for tribulation, but without fear,
knowing that God is faithful. And whether we live or die, we will live
together forever with Christ Jesus.