Having just listened to another sermon about the pre-tribulation rapture of the church from John 14 and 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18, I have decided to address a few ideas that need clarification on my blog. In this “Rapture of the Church” sermon from a solid brother in Christ, I identified a few holes that I would hope others who listen to the sermon would also identify. We need to listen to the preaching of God’s Word with a critical ear. When the preacher tells us something, we need to judiciously examine the text for ourselves and see if we see what he is seeing. He is not the final arbiter of truth. Moreover, we need to listen to opposing points of view and be willing to discuss every side of an issue. If your conviction about a matter is not strong enough for you to examine more than one point of view, your position is decidedly weak, and you must face the reality that you might be wrong.
In this particular sermon, the preacher drew clear lines of distinction between the Second Coming of Christ described in Matthew 24 and a pre-tribulation rapture of the church described, in his mind, in John 14. He said the former (the Olivet Discourse) was addressed to Israel and the latter (John 14) was addressed to the NT church. I could not find an email address, but I have a question concerning his position.
How are we to distinguish when Jesus is talking to the disciples as representatives of Israel and when he is speaking to them as the future NT church throughout the four gospels and Acts 1? I think the question is more than fair.
As I compare Matthew 24.3 to John 14.1, I see that Jesus is talking to the same 11 disciples (Judas is absent in John 14), in the same city, and in the same final week of His life. Moreover, I find it odd that the book that contains eschatological information for Israel, namely Matthew, is the only gospel book that references the church (ekklesia) twice; whereas John, the gospel with the “rapture” passage for the NT church, does not reference the church (ekklesia) a single time.
Additionally, I see that in 1 Thess. 4:15, Paul references the “Coming (parousia) of the Lord” in the middle of the “classic rapture” passage, and this is the exact same word found 4 times in Matt. 24.3, 27, 37 and 39. Furthermore, if the reader will study the 24 times parousia (Strong’s G3952) is used in the King James NT, he will find Paul uses the word throughout 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Please note the parousia is the Coming of Christ when he establishes His “presence” on the earth. Here is the Lexicon usage from www.blueletterbible.org.
2) the coming, arrival, advent
a) the future visible return from heaven of Jesus, to raise the dead, hold the last judgment, and set up formally and gloriously the kingdom of God
Finally, I do not understand why the Matt. 28 “great commission” isn’t for Israel if the eschatological information in chapter 24 is for Israel. Let the reader note that Matthew 16 speaks about the church, as does Matthew 18, and Matthew 28 is the “great commission” to the church, but sandwiched between two references to the church and the “great commission” to the church is eschatological information intended for Israel and not the church. Is that what I am to believe? Does that make sense?
This preacher kept emphasizing that Jesus is taking His disciples back to heaven in John 14.1-4. So, let me encourage you to read the text and see what you think.
John 14:1–4 (NASB95)
1 “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. 4 “And you know the way where I am going.”
I chose the NASB because of the idea that Jesus is going to build me a “mansion” in heaven is a southern gospel pop-culture idea that only reinforces a prosperity gospel message. “Dwelling place” is a much more accurate rendering of the Greek word translated “mansion” in the KJV. But here is the KJV as well.
John 14:1–4 (AV)
1 Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. 4 And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.
I don’t see anywhere in John 14 where Jesus says that He is going back to heaven after He returns for His disciples. Could He not just as well enter the millennial kingdom with the elect He gathered as opposed to returning to heaven for 7 years? In fact, let’s be equally fair to the Amillennial guys. There is nothing in John 14 that suggests Jesus is going into the millennial kingdom (we get that from Revelation 20). The only thing the text indicates is that when He comes back for us, we will be with him forever (regardless of where that is). I think it is fair to say that John 14 doesn’t have the specificity that one may wish for it to have. (Post a comment below if there is anything in this text that suggests He is definitively going back to heaven.)
I will argue strongly that there is no way the disciples would have understood Jesus to be promising them a pre-tribulation rapture considering the reality that they heard in the words of Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 directly from the mouth of Jesus. They were going to suffer tribulation; they would die for their faith in Christ.
Moreover, the serious student of the Word must reconcile the fact that Jesus continually spoke about what he would be doing on the “last day” in the gospel of John. Let me show you what I mean.
John 6:39, 40, 44, 55 (AV)
39 And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.
40 And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.
44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
54 Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.
John 12:48 (AV)
48 He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.
Look closely at John 12:48. In this text, Jesus is talking about the judgment of unbelievers on the last day.
With these kinds of references to the “last day” in John, how are we to believe that Jesus was describing a pre-tribulation rapture of the church (in John 14) and not His return to establish His kingdom on this earth?
If the disciples understood from John 14 a pre-tribulation rapture of the church, why are they asking Jesus in Acts 1.6 “Lord will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Shouldn’t they have understood that there would be a pre-tribulation rapture, followed by 7 years of tribulation, and then they would return with Christ to reign in the kingdom?
In conclusion, John 14.1-4 is simply a promise from Christ that He is coming again. Nothing more can be inferred from the text. Preachers should be careful to let the text say only what it says and nothing more. The exegetical integrity of a preacher is called into question when he attempts to make the text say what it doesn’t say. There isn’t a single time marker in John 14 as to when this will happen. In fact, from the gospel of John it is only fair to assume that the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead in Christ will occur on the “last day.” When is that last day? The Bible doesn’t say, but it does give us signs that will precede that last day. Do you know what signs will precede the last day?