Exploding the Escapist Myth
"Then we, the still living who remain [on the earth], shall simultaneously be caught up along with (the resurrected dead) in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so always - through the eternity of the eternities - shall we be with the Lord!" (1 Thessalonians 4:17-18, Amplified Version).
Upon this one passage the whole doctrine of the rapture either stands of falls. The version quoted above is pretty representative of all the Bible versions we have, including the King James Version (KJV). Most rapturists believe that we shall arise in the sky and meet the Lord Yah'shua (Jesus) in some fluffy clouds high in the atmosphere and from there be transported to heaven to remain with Him forever. Quite apart from the fact that this scenario ignores the voluminous number of scriptures in the Old Testament which categorically state that the era of peace - the Millennium - will be here on earth, this passage of Paul to Thessalonians says nothing of being taken to heaven. Rather, it says we shall be together with the Lord for eternity without stating where He - or we - will be. Obviously we will not remain in the air for ever. Neither is this passage, as some teach, to be understood in purely symbolic terms otherwise "being" with the Lord would be meaningless, though this does not of course mean that there aren't deep symbolic meanings to be discerned.
It is my contention, and the belief of Messianic Evangelicals, that we are not all going to be whisked away to heaven when Yah'shua (Jesus) returns. Quite the opposite. Yah'shua (Jesus), who is the personification of heaven, is coming down here to earth as Regent. He is literally coming to bring heaven on earth. Not all at one, but in two stages: a millennial heaven and a post-millennial heaven. We know little of the latter. About all we can say with any confidence is that at the end of the millennium our world, together with the spiritual domains, willl be utterly transformed into something which I suppose could best be described as a reality which consists in its glory of the very essence of the presence of Yahweh-God Himself. The return to earth of Yah'shua (Jesus) is but the prelude and preparation for the time when the survivors of our human race can be presented to Elohim (God) to dwell in His presence also.
Sadly, there are some Christians who view an earthly paradise as tantamount to heresy because cults like the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses believe in such a thing. For all their other faults, we must at least credit them for being right when they are. The doctrine of an earthly millennial kingdom does not, in any case, belong to them but to a Christianity which predated them by nearly 2,000 years and to the pre-Christian Hebrew faith which predated them by several more thousand years on top of that.
Another justification for a non-earthly millennial reign, which is subscribed to by, amongst others, the Seventh Day Adventists and many evangelicals, is that in setting our goals on something "earthly" we are somehow looking at something less than perfect. And in a way they are right. The Millennium will not be perfect but in comparison to earth's history from the time of the Fall, it mostly certainly will appear perfect. People will make mistakes but they will not be troubled by demons or Satan any longer (except for a brief period at the end of the Millennium). Nature will be tamed and man and beast will no longer war with one another. There won't be any more war because there won't be any more armies or weapons - our swords will have been transformed into instruments of peace (Is.2:4). Disease will also be conquered. The only blot on the millennial landscape will be the Adamic nature which remains in the survivors of the Tribulation who have not yet been resurrected and who are not a part of the first resurrection.
We must also at this juncture point out that when Yah'shua (Jesus) returns a whole city is returning with Him called the New Jerusalem (Rev.3:12; 21:2). There are many who reject the idea of an earthly millennium because Yah'shua (Jesus) said that He was going to heaven to prepare a place for us (Jn.14:3) and that it is to heaven, and the 'mansions' awaiting us there (Jn.14:2, KJV), that we are bound when the Lord returns. However, if the New Jerusalem is coming to earth, and with it our 'mansions', then this objection may immediately be dismissed. Unlike the Mormons, who believe they will build the New Jerusalem with their own hands in Jackson County, Missouri, USA, it is very clear from the Bible that man will have no part of this construction and that it will come, ready made, to rest in the Holy Land where the old (and current Jerusalem) once was.
Let us return to the prophetic symbolism of the return of Christ "in the clouds of heaven" (Mt.24:30; 26:64; Mk.13:26; 14:62; Rev.1:7). For some reason many scriptorians forget the words "in heaven" because Mark ommits it in Mk.13:26 and conclude that when Yah'shua (Jesus) returns it will be in earthly clouds. The question is: are these the same clouds that Paul mentions in 1 Thes.4:17, the clouds that the survivors are caught up into to meet the returning Lord? Indeed, are these physical clouds at all, or some kind of prophetic-symbolic imagery?
Clouds figure strongly throughout the Bible and indeed most people will remember that it was a cloud that led Israel out of Egypt and through the Sinai (e.g, Ex.13:21). Yahweh Himself was concealed in cloud atop Mt. Sinai in His theophany to Moses (e.g. Ex.24:16); a pillar of cloud stood over the tabernacle and Yahweh appeared in a cloud in the tabernacle (Num.12:5; Dt.31:15). Perhaps more importantly in our quest to understand the meaning of the usage of "cloud" we ought to remember Lucifer's ambition to "ascend above the tops of the clouds" in order to be "like the Most High" (Is.14:14, NIV).
Of Yah'shua (Jesus) it is written: "...He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the people of the earth will mourn because of Him" (Rev.1:7, NIV). Mark that well: the Lord is coming WITH the clouds. What does that mean?
Fortunately biblical symbolism interprets itself: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses..." (Heb.12:1, NIV). Clouds are symbolic of people, and specifically, believers. This is confirmed by a gematric examination of the Greek words for "clouds" and "witnesses" which are multiples of 11. What then were the "clouds" in which Yah'shua (Jesus) is to return? They are the saints, the redeemed of the Lord. Yah'shua is "coming with the saints". Now the pieces fit together. This has nothing to do with literal clouds but with PEOPLE, a great mass of them who will appear as a cloud, even as millions of locusts congregated together appear as a cloud. Thus the dead in Christ shall return with Christ as though a gigantic cloud, and the surviving saints will be raptured into the air to meet Christ and the cloud of His witnesses. Beyond this scripture says nothing more about rapture as we shall see.
You may be surprised to learn that the clouds are people. If you are, you ought not really be too surprised to learn that some of the other things in Revelation 1:7 may mean something entirely different to what has hitherto been supposed. Let's take a look at it again: "...He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the people of the earth will mourn because of Him". Traditionally it has been supposed that "every eye" refers to everyone living on the earth, believer and unbeliever alike. But is that likely? Remembering that "clouds" is symbolic of people, let us also remember that biblically-speaking "seeing" is usually only something enjoyed by two believers. Many times in the gospels Yah'shua (Jesus) talks about the Scribes and Pharisees as being able to "see" physically but who are nonetheless blind spiritually. Did Yah'shua (Jesus) ever appear to unbelievers after His resurrection? Never. Could He have done? Of course. So why didn't He appear to unbelievers? Because, it would seem, there was no point: signs follow faith, not the other way round. He would have been in violation of His teachings about true, saving faith. When he appeared to multitudes, it was only to believers to confirm their already extant faith (1 Cor.15:6). It is more than possible - infact, very likely - that Christ will never again appear to unbelievers, except to judge them. What other purpose would it serve?
It is normal at this juncture to quote Philippians 2:10 where it is recorded that "at the name of Yah'shua (Jesus) every knee shall bow and every tongue confess" as evidence that everyone will see Him. And yet there is no evidence of anybody seeing Him at all in this passage, only that His Name will invoke these responses of obeisance. Sartan and the demons already know who Christ is - they need no visual evidence. And what about the people? According to Matthew 25:31-33, when He separates the sheep from the goats, it is as the Judgment (2 Thess.1:9).
What of those who have "pierced" Him? It is written: "He was wounded for our transgressions" - all of us (Is.53:5). There isn't a single soul who has not at some point "pierced" Him. Could it not be that those who form the "cloud of witnesses" are the ones being spoken of? When Yah'shua (Jesus) ascended into Heaven, there was a cloud of witnesses who watched Him. It was not a secret exit from our world. The angel, furthermore, said that that He would return in the same way as they saw Him leave (Ac.1:9-11). Who saw Him ascend? Believers or unbelievers? It was His disciples! Thus in the same way it was only His disciples who saw Him ascend, so will it also only be His disciples - the living and the 'dead' - who will see Him return!
We see the same principle at work in the Transfiguration during which Yah'shua (Jesus) disappeared into a cloud and conversed with Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets. Similarly, when Moses on top of Mt.Sinai, he disappeared into a cloud. We may conclude from these that the only persons who ever see God or His Son are those who are true believers since no unbeliever was allowed on Sinai and no unbeliever witnessed the Transfiguration.
The puzzle assembles itself in an unexpected way, but there is more. We often speak of the Second "Coming", do we not? However, the Greek word we use to translate this word, parousia, is better rendered "presence". Thus Christ's coming or presence will be with (in, amongst) the clouds, who are the believing saints. Clouds always represent God's Glory, Power and Majesty. These are people who are in glory, in the presence (parousia) of Christ. Now Jehovah's Witnesses have abused this word to imply that Christ returned invisibly in 1914 (when a prophecy of theirs that He would return visibly failed). However, parousia does not necessarily imply invisibility for Paul also talks of his parousia with the saints. The parousia here is of Christ with His people. There is, I suggest, little if no evidence that He is going to return visibly to unbeliebers too.
When Moses descended from the Mout of the Lord his face shone so brightly that no-one could look at him for some considerable time because He had been in the cloud/presence of Yahweh (Ex.34:30). Yah'shua's face also shone like the sun, causing His disciples to fall on their faces (Mt.17:2). Moreover, when Christ return, his face will have exactly the same appearance (Rev.1:16). Indeed, this is the condition of all those who dwell in Yahweh's presence, including angels (Rev.10:1).
I imagine the faces of the returning saints will shine brightly too. For now we cannot see the face of Yahweh and live (Ex.33:20) but the time is coming when we will (1 Cor.13:12).
We have seen that the saints will be caught up into the sky to meet Christ and the returning saints but there is nothing to indicate that we will proceed to heaven afterwards. Indeed, I will now show conclusively from the Scriptures that the opposite is true: having met Him in the sky with the cloud of witnesses, we shall return back to earth with them. If we were going to heaven to be with Christ and the saints, why would Christ bring the saints with Him to the earth's atmosphere and then take them all the way back again?
There is no such word as "rapture" in the Bible, no such idea to be found of true believers being taken away from this earth in the end time. There are, to be sure, some isolated examples of especially holy men being translated to heaven but there is no mass exodus from the earth. We know that Enoch and Elijah were taken to heaven without dying, the latter in a "chariot", and there is some evidence that Moses was too. Indeed, there are only two persons the New Testament talks of being taken off the earth and into heaven and that is the two witnesses of Revelation 11:
"But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered [the two witensses], and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, 'Come up here.' And they went up to heaven in a cloud while their enemies looked on" (Rev.11:11-12, NIV).
Many believe that these two witnesses are the translated Moses and Elijah, and there is much to support this interpretation, though others think they are symbolic of the Church being raptured away. The latter is unlikely for many reasons since there is no doubt this prophecy takes place within the physical city of Jerusalem and the Church is spread across the whole earth. It would also mean that the Church (the saints) would have to be murdered first before being brought back to life and being raptured (in any case this would support a post-tribulation rapture). However, there is one important thing the rapturist advocates conveniently forget, and it is this: when God removes people from the earth, it is usually unbelievers. Moses, Elijah and Enoch are the exceptions, not a prophetic type of the Church's eventual rapture.
Let us take a look at an interesting statement made by Christ about the world of the flood: "For in the says before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the Ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man"! (Mt. 24:38-39, NIV).
Mark it well! When Christ, the Son of Man, returns, God will be taking the wicked away! It is the unbelievers who are being separated from the believers by being killed, just as it was in Noah's days, NOT THE OTHER WAY ROUND!
Yah'shua also said: "Two men will be working in a field; one will be taken and the other will be left" (Mt. 24:40, NIV). Why do so many Christians assume that it will be the righteoteous who will be taken away in a "rapture"?
"I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left" (Lk.17:34-35, NIV).
There is absolutely no doubt that Yah'shua (Jesus) is comparing the "taking away" with the days of the flood: "Just as it was in the days of Noah..." (v.26) Read it for yourself. And yet those who insist we will all be raptured away have ripped some passages out of context, twisted them completely around, and tried to make us believe it is the righteous who are going to be taken away! But the words of Yah'shua confound them! And yet most of evangelical Christianity has pawned on us this lie of the rapture!
When Yah'shua (Jesus) returns to the earth after the Tribulation and the great end-time destruction, the wicked will have been removed in death ("taken away") and the righteous will remain, just as occurred in Noah's days. The end-time conditions of this world will be exactly the same as they were in the days of Noah - exactly: "As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man" (Mt.24:37, NIV). Were Noah and his family raptured? No they were not - they were preserved on a floating ark of safety. So who was "taken away" or "removed"? The wicked. Will the Church be raptured before or after the tribulation? Neither. It will be preserved in arks of safety - places of refuge, and then be caught up into the air to meet the Lord. So who will be taken away? The wicked, not by water this time, but by fire. So who will see the Lord when He returns to the earth? THE RIGHTEOUS, because the wicked will all be dead. They will ascend into the air and meet the returning saints who are coming to live on the earth again - and earth which is going to be transformed into a heaven.
This is what the Scriptures teach. The doctrine of the rapture is utterly WRONG. It is anti-scriptural. Indeed, it is 180 degrees facing in the wrong direction!
It is not my purpose here to examine closely who the "righteous" are - whether they are all those who have accepted Christ and survived or whether they include those who would have accepted Christ had they been given the opportunity to hear the Gospel, but who naturally receive Him when He returns to earth, becoming conscious of their sins, repenting, and becoming thereafter a part of the cloud of the redeemed. This much has not as yet been revealed.
My own beliefs about the Second Coming have evolved somewhat over the years as I have examined more of the evidence and divested myself of the doctrines I inherited from the religious tradition that initiated me into the Scriptures. I never believed in the rapture doctrine to be sure though I have entertained its possibility. However, Scripture simply does not support it.
There is much more that could be said about this subject which would occupy a whole book. As New Covenant Christians we are naturally very interested in it because our whole mission is tied up with it. For if the popular view of the rapture is true, then our whole mission of building tribulation cities of refuge is utterly meaningless.
Finally, let us remember the parable of the wheat and the tares - of true Christians and false ones, and ask ourselves the question: Does Christ remove the wheat from the tares (as we would expect if the rapture doctrine is true) or the tares from the wheat (if there is no rapture)? It is clear: the angels go into the Body of Christ and gather the tares in bundles and burn them. The Kingdom stays behind on earth because the field is the world (Mt.13:38). Read it for yourself (Mt.13:24-39, 36-54; cp. 3:12; Lk.3:17). To argue, as some rapturists do, that the "barn" into which the wheat is gathered is heaven is without scriptural warranty, every reference to barns and storerooms in Scripture being to earthly buildings. And so it will be in the last days, only the barns will be cities of refuge.
For more information on the rapture, see our booklet, Tribulation vs. Rapture: Essays on the Pre-Trib Heresy (New Covenant Press, Arvika, 1999).
Comments from Readers
 "This is an excellent article regarding the 'rapture' theory, Christopher. I've read many, and studied the topic some. I have one question though, as it specifically relates to your article. If the "dead in Christ" and the 'surviving saints on earth' are caught up to meet Yah'shua/Jesus in the air WITH the cloud of witnesses, and if that cloud is all believing saints, then HOW did they get in heaven with Yahusha to return WITH Him at His 2nd coming, if there has not yet been a 1st resurrection??" (JS, USA, 27 May 2016)
You can look at 'clouds' in two different ways: (1) The clouds are people; (2) The clouds are of Yahweh's glory. The resurrection of the dead of all the ages, together with those who are alive and are transformed in the twinkling of an eye, arise in terms of time and space ON EARTH and ALL rise up to meet Messiah returning as glorified beings. The spirit world is in the same space as the physical world we live on, but in a different dimension.
We don't know if this is instant or whether it takes place over a period of time. We don't know how long we will be 'in the air' before we are returned to terra firma. Since billions of people are involved, I am inclined to think this may take a few hours. That means not everyone is 'up there' at the same time. Maybe you and I will rise up to meet many already there - the 'gathering of the resurrected saints' in the sky. Those returning - the cloud of witnesses/saints - aren't coming from another planet or physical place in the universe (no Mormon 'Kolob'). Once up, we toghether form the cloud of witnesses, and return with Him.
'Heaven' (Paradise, to be exact), like 'Hell' (Prison, to be exact ... both are Sheol in Hebrew parlance, the realm of the disembodied dead) is a spiritual dimension, not a resurrection one. So the heavenly part of Sheol (Paradise) is right here, along with the Prison part, but separate from each other. It's all 'here'.
 "It is a 'wave' offering. The redeemed are 'lifted up' as a 'waved' firstfruit offering (assembly of the FIRTSBORN). Also, there is a parallel to the wise virgins, "go ye out to meet Him". They do not go out to meet the Groom, only to turn around and go back to the Father's house in Heaven" (SK, USA, 27 May 2016).
 "Awesome! Thank you" (BDS, USA, 27 May 2016)
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Last updated on 27 May 2016
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