To understand the rapture, you need to look back at Jesus after his resurrection. On at least two occasions, Jesus visited the assembled disciples by walking into the room through a closed door.
The disciples’ response was not unlike what ours would be today, if we were together with friends in a closed-off room where someone we knew as a bodily person, recently dead, walked in through a closed door and greeted us with, “Peace be upon you …”
It was a shock. Their first thought, as they clearly expressed, was that they were seeing a ghost. Was that not a perfectly reasonable assumption? Jesus had died on the cross and been laid to rest in a tomb, which was sealed with a large stone.
Thomas missed the disciples’ first Jesus visit, and refused to accept their account. Jesus honored Thomas’ request at a later visit with his disciples, inviting his “doubting” Thomas to “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27).
People of that day did not rise from the dead with a glorified body. Nor do they do so today. They stayed in the tomb, or the grave. The disciples expected what had always happened before. They didn’t expect that Jesus would rise from the dead. They certainly didn’t expect that he would rise with a glorified body that could walk through closed doors. Their human minds told them that they were seeing a ghost. Yet Jesus told them it was him.
We’re in a similar era today. We can see the supernatural (miracles) and explain them away with our human minds, or we can accept what the Word of God tells us about what we are seeing. The devil has great influence over the world, but he has no influence over the Word of God, which in a world awash in the devil’s lies is the only ultimate truth we have.
I believed the pre-tribulation rapture for a long time, because that is what I was taught to believe. Most of the “teaching” came from the “Left Behind” novel series, with its disappearing airline pilots and doomed non-Christians, who were left to experience the full force of Satan’s wrath at being bested, once again, by God (it could never be a real contest).
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“Left Behind” was a clever story, but it was fiction, folks. When the literary agent who put the deal together was asked how he did it, he said (paraphrasing now), “Well, I had a pastor who couldn’t write, and a writer with no ideas, so I just put the two of them together.” They sold at least 81 million books. That’s a lot of people influenced by a clever story, instead of the Word of God.
When I began to write my own end-times novel series, I was surprised that the characters refused to cooperate with the “Left Behind” timetable. At that point, any writer has a decision to make. We can force the characters to do whatever we (the author) want, but the price to doing that is fake, wooden characters. I decided to give the characters a fresh start and let each of them tell their own story. The end times that emerged were very different from “Left Behind.” Characters don’t work for the author. It’s the other way around. The author’s job is to write down what the characters say and do. That’s what makes a story. As an author, you must guard real characters with your life.
The rapture as described by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is a similar process to what Jesus’ body went through in the tomb. For clarity, I’ll call the body that Jesus possessed after his resurrection as Jesus’ resurrection body. Jesus’ resurrection body clearly looked like him, because his disciples recognized him. It was that resurrection body’s behavior that put them on edge: He was able to walk through a closed and locked door into their meeting. His resurrection body did not have the same physical limitations of his earlier “born of the Virgin Mary” body, which was how the disciples knew him. 1 John 3:2 tells us: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
Paul describes what we call the rapture: The “dead in Christ will rise first, then we who are alive will be changed, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). If we are going to be with Jesus for all of Eternity, then we are going to need a changed body, one like His. (Romans 6:8-9: “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.”)
It’s not hard to understand that the big change of the rapture is that we will have glorified bodies, capable of a wider existence than the purely physical earth-bound one we now possess (also very telling that “we” are not our bodies, isn’t it?)
“Left Behind” made a good story out of it, but it also made a lot of preachers into fire insurance salesmen. Selling the Gospel as a means of avoiding tribulation fills the church with a lot of people who may not be pursuing God for the reasons God values: To share His love and hopes and dreams for us with us both in this world and the one to come.
If God wants us here through the tribulation, then this is where we will be. If He wants us somewhere else, then that’s where we will be.
The “Left Behind” rapture story neutered God’s Church here on earth as regards evil. If you truly believe that everything is only going to get worse and worse, then what is the point of the church pushing back against Satan’s efforts? Aren’t you then fighting against God’s plan (to allow evil to triumph)? Who wants to be in that position?
But why in the world would God want His people here during the tribulation? Perhaps He wants to grow them? Perhaps He wants them to learn and understand the Authority He has given them, through Christ? Perhaps He wants them here for such a time as this: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23).
It’s pretty hard to look around us today and to not see the earth groaning and travailing under the leadership of evil men, women, corporations and governments. What we are eyewitnesses to is man’s war against God. Evil men and women are attempting to seize control of God’s Creation (humanity included) and use it as if they own it. Is there anything in God’s history that leads us to believe that God is going to permit this?
Put another way, buckle up, Beloveds. Remember who you are, in Christ. God is supernatural, as is the war we are now engaged in. The devil’s worst nightmare is taking shape in front of his crying eyes. That which the devil despised and dismissed as weak is being moved into positions of authority around the entire world. God has his own ways of doing things. Our best results come when we seek to learn from and cooperate with Him.
If you don’t already have an assignment from God, expect one soon. The spiritual world is about to get very real.
Reconnaissance: The Creator Returns, Vol. 1, craigemcmillan.com
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