A Rapture Sermon
November 9, 2011
Mark Ashton, lead pastor at Christ Community Church in Omaha, preached on the rapture on Sunday, October 23. We were in one of the services for worship because our board of trustee meetings were in Omaha from Thursday to Saturday. It was refreshing to hear someone embrace a difficult topic, a subject I have not heard a sermon on for forty years.
Why don't we hear more sermons on difficult topics or doctrines? A lot of times difficult topics are controversial; you can't win because someone will be mad at you. Many times difficult teachings of doctrine prove hard because such a paucity of biblical references exists. For example, the doctrine of the Trinity lacks any one verse or teaching to rest a major doctrine on. We have to mass together the references to two or three persons of the Triune God to uncover the biblical teachings. Fortunately, there are lots of them.
In the case of the rapture the teaching revolves around three passages ? Matthew 24:15-35, 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Interpreters agree on only one thing in these passages ? the return of Jesus at his second coming is involved. Of course, there are many verses in the OT and NT that describe the second coming, the judgment, and the eternal state. The case is made more difficult because the word "rapture" does not occur except in the Latin translation of Thessalonians. Extremes of interpretation abound from "you've got to be kidding, of course there is no such thing," to detailed ascription of day, time, and hour to this event in God's eschatological plan, something Jesus didn't know.
Even interpreters who believe the Bible teaches a "snatching up" of believers who are alive when Christ returns differ on the specifics, whether it is at the beginning of the tribulation or the mid-point or at the end, with some believing that when a person believes during the tribulation they will be taken to the Lord (kind of a partial rapture dependent on a person's time of belief). It gets quite wearisome and may be the reason some just throw their arms up and focus on the return of Christ. Sad how it divides good Christians.
With a limit on specific verses available for a definitive interpretation I do believe we need to move forward with humbleness and care. After all, only God knows the time and specifics.
However, one thing jumps off the biblical page in each passage above that allows me to get stronger and jump up and down in clear rhetorical verbiage. Preach it, brother. Every one of the passages ends with application.
We abandon these passages at our own risk because they were meant to drive us to "be ready" for the Lord's return, to live "pure" lives in light of the coming, and to "encourage each other with these words." Despite the difficulties of interpretation we are instructed to apply these passages to our lives as community. The biblical truth is that the Lord has the beginning and the end in control. In light of this truth, we are to live right and ready.
When the world around us looks uglier and uglier, we rest in the biblical perspective that our God is in control. It may be fun (for some) or wearying (for others) to debate the interpretations, but we better not forget the reason they are in the Bible. They are meant to impact our daily life in relationship with God and the world.
You may ask, "Okay, Mike, how do you interpret these passages? You really haven't said." Good question. Can I win if I answer? Well, I don't think it is a contest and I hope you don't either. Here is my interpretation.
[Sorry. Mike is gone. We couldn't find him so we published this hoping he wanted it to go out on his blog. Editor]
Just kidding. I remain a premillennialist (with real questions about the literal numbers in the Bible ? is it a thousand years or is it a really long time of peace after Christ's return) and a pretribulationist (with wonderings about the numbers again, but with the belief that the tribulation is a time of wrath and believers will not need to suffer the wrath of judgment). And in the same breath I remind myself to be ready, live pure, and encourage each other with the promise of Christ's return.
Thank you, Mark, for preaching on the subject.