We are a Christian Fellowship meeting in North London with a strong interest in teaching
the Bible and understanding our time in
the light of Bible prophecy
The rapture of the Church - a new doctrine?
In our Winter edition last year we looked at some of the statements of the early
church and showed how the main view of the first Christians was that the Second Coming
of the Lord Jesus would be followed by His 1000 year reign from Jerusalem, known
as the Millennium. There is however another aspect of the teaching on the end times
which is controversial amongst Bible believing Christians. This is the teaching of
the Rapture of the Church (rapture is the Latin form of the Greek harpazo to catch
up or seize away). This event is described in the verses from 1 Thessalonians 4.13-5.11:
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an
archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then
we who are alive and remain shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. And thus
we shall always be with the Lord. In this passage the Lord comes for the saints (i.e.
the true believers in Jesus) and meets them in the air. In Zechariah 14 and Revelation
19-20 the Lord comes with the saints to the earth for his millennial (1000 year)
The question is, Does this event coincide with the coming of the Lord to the earth
or is it separated in time by a period seven years? In other words, Is the Second
Coming of Christ in two stages? The view that the second coming is in two stages
is known as the pre-tribulation rapture, because this event is said to precede the
final seven years of the Great Tribulation described in Matthew 24.15-31 and in Revelation
6-19. Critics of this view say that the second coming is all one event and that the
idea of a separation in time between the two stages of the second coming is a novel
idea which the early church knew nothing of.
The usual criticism is that the pre-tribulation rapture theory originated around
1820, ascribed either to Emmanuel Lacunza (1812), Edward Irving (1816), Margaret
Macdonald (1830) or John Darby (1820). Dave MacPherson in The Incredible Cover Up
stated: Margaret Macdonald was the first person to teach a coming of Christ that
would precede the days of Antichrist. Before 1830 Christians had always believed
in a single future coming, that the catching up of 1 Thessalon-ians 4 will take place
after the Great Tribulation of Matthew 24 at the glorious coming of the Son of Man
when He shall send His angels to gather together all of His elect. (In fact the modern
interest in this subject really began with John Darby who came to see from his study
of the Bible the need for a gap in time between the rapture and the second coming
to the earth in 1827, with no influence at all from Margaret Macdonald, who was a
15 year old girl at the time).
However there is evidence of an understanding of the coming of the Lord in two stages
in the early church. The writer Ephraem the Syrian was a major theologian of the
early Byzantine Church, who lived from 306 to 373. The work On the Last Times, the
Antichrist and the End of the World may have been written by Ephraem or one of his
disciples. This message was considered important enough at the time to be translated
into several languages.
Ephraem's text shows a literal method of interpreting scripture and teaches the pre-millennial
return of Christ. It reveals a clear statement about the Lord returning before the
tribulation to take his elect saints home to be with him to escape the coming tribulation.
For all the saints and elect of God are gathered prior to the tribulation that is
to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm
the world because of our sins.
In addition Ephraem declares his belief in a personal Antichrist who will rule the
Roman Empire during the last days, a rebuilt Temple, the two witnesses and a literal
Great Tribulation: And there will be a great tribulation, as there has not been since
people began to be on the earth … and no one is able to sell or buy of the grain
of the harvest, unless he is the one who has the serpentine sign on the forehead
or the hand. And when the three and a half years have been completed, the time of
the Antichrist, through which he will have seduced the world, after the resurrection
of the two prophets, in the hour which the world does not know and on the day which
the enemy or the son of perdition does not know, will come the sign of the Son of
Man, and coming forward the Lord shall appear with great power and much majesty,
with the sign of salvation going before him, and also even with all the powers of
the heavens with the whole chorus of the saints.
So the teaching that the second coming is in two stages was not unknown to the early
church. It may have been little known and understood, but that is not a bar to it
being true. At the time of the first coming of the Messiah Jesus, it was not understood
even by his closest disciples that there were to be two stages in his Messianic mission,
the first to suffer and die as a sacrifice for sin (in fulfilment of prophecies such
as Isaiah 53), the second to rule and reign over the redeemed earth (in fulfilment
of Isaiah 2.1-4 and other prophecies). After the Day of Pentecost they understood
the truth, that there was to be a time gap between his first and second coming during
which time they were to evangelise the world (see Acts 1.6-8).
So too the literal understanding of the prophecies demands that there is a time gap
between the first and second stage of the second coming of Christ. The first stage,
the rapture of the church happens unexpectedly, as a thief in the night. Even from
the point of view of the writers of the New Testament it could happen at any time:
You also be patient, brethren. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord
is at hand. (James 5.8) See also 1 Corinthians 1.7, 16.22, 1 Thessalonians 1.10,
Titus 2.13, Hebrews 9.28, James 5.7-9, 1 Peter 1.13, Jude 21, Revelation 3.11, 22.7,12,17,20.
If the rule of Antichrist, the Great Tribulation and the Mark of the Beast system
had to come first it would be impossible for Christ to come at any time as was the
expectation of the early Christians.
Expecting Jesus to come at any time means that we as believers should keep our lives
in continual readiness for this event as John taught in his epistle: We know that
when he is revealed, we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is. And
everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. (1 John 3.2-3).
This is also a tremendous hope for those who are suffering in this body: For our
citizenship is in heaven from which we eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus
Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to his glorious
body. … The Lord is at hand. (Philippians 3.20, 4.5)
In view of this our response should be to make sure that we are ready for the rapture
of the church by repenting of our sins and believing in the sacrifice of the Lord
Jesus to save us from the wrath to come. If you are not sure that you are ready,
pray the following prayer and contact us for further information on living the new
life in the Messiah Jesus:
Dear Heavenly Father, I admit that I am a sinner and need your forgiveness. I believe
that Jesus the Messiah died in my place paying the penalty for my sins. I am willing
right now to turn from my sin and accept Jesus the Messiah as my personal Saviour
and Lord. I commit my life to you and ask you to send the Holy Spirit into my life,
to fill me and to take control and to help me become the kind of person you want
me to be. Thank you Father for loving me. In Jesus name, Amen.