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You are here:  Greater Things > Ridenhour > Touching Sacred Cows

Touching Sacred Cows:
Canonization of Scripture & the Rapture

Lynn Ridenhour

"…Grandpa had his favorite cow and she knew she was his favorite. How she seemed content, giving her daily milk, prancing unattended around her fields at leisure. Unharassed, she seemed to be in her own small world.

Then one day she charged my six year-old sister, Joan. My sister came running into grandma’s house crying and--that’s all it took. Grandpa headed out the kitchen door, both feet in a fury. He was after his favorite cow. He found her and quickly let her know (in a way that only grandpa could) that she was not indispensable.

Some forty years later I still can see the look on that cow’s face.

"…What do you mean touching me! I’m your favorite cow!…" seemed to be written all over her face. Stunned, she hightailed it off into the bushes close to the pond, glancing back a few times at grandpa.

Touching sacred cows…

Perhaps that’s close to how we feel about our Christian traditions, for to us, they’re not traditions. They’re sacred and held in high esteem. I’m convinced, Christians will give up their sins quicker than their traditions. It’s always traumatic when someone touches our sacred cow…"

--Excerpt from "An Essay on the Rapture"

As a Baptist minister for over 36 years, like most Protestants, I have my two pet doctrines that are cardinal to my faith—1) canonization of scripture, and 2) the rapture. I believe in both doctrines from the marrow of my bones.

Then it happened.

In the late ‘60s God began dealing with me about the rapture; in the mid-‘80s, about the canonization of scripture.

The Lord had just touched two of my sacred cows! And I didn’t like it.

After wrestling with the Lord for some months, I reluctantly gave in. The following two essays are a result of my struggles; writing the essays also helped me articulate what my heart was feeling. And finally, my surrender.

A side note…

To those believers who embrace the restoration gospel, we have our work cut out. For no non-restoration believer—Catholic or Protestant--will take us seriously if we don’t sooner or later touch ever so gently his two sacred Protestant cows—canonization of scripture and the rapture.

Both doctrines are cardinal Protestant doctrines, taught from Vacation Bible School through Seminary, and both are extra-biblical teachings.

Let’s begin.

But remember—we’re about to touch a very sacred cow.

Canonization of Scripture
Fact or Folly?

Lynn Ridenhour

As a child, I remember our family taking a trip to St. Louis. I couldn’t have been more than four years old. My sister, Joan, and I were romping in the back seat, playing, more like passing the time away as dad cruised down the highway. I don’t know why I did it but suddenly--impulsively I grabbed the cover on that old black Bible lying in the window of our ’49 Buick and hurled it at my seven year-old sister, pages flying everywhere.

That’s it. My dad slammed on his brakes, pulled over to the side of the road, and looked me straight in the eye, "…son, don’t you ever let me see you do that again! That’s God’s Word…" I thought hail from heaven would fall on my head any minute. That’s the way I was raised. We didn’t even write or make notes in the Bible; it was that sacred.

That’s been 50 years ago and I’ve never forgotten the incident. It’s indelibly printed on my memory and will stay there ‘till the day I die. Today I still possess that same reverence for the scriptures. It’s God Holy Word and I know it. My dad instilled it in me.

Most of us conservative Protestant Christians feel the same way. We cut our spiritual teeth on The Book, leaning on every jot and tittle. It’s our road map, our daily bread, our health manual and our eternal salvation. We grew up on such doctrines as: verbal inspiration, plenary revelation, and scriptural canonization. It’s unthinkable to think otherwise.

That’s why it sounds so ridiculous when I say, "…God has been dealing with me concerning the canonization of scripture…"

But He has. Sometimes our very foundation needs testing, examining. Sometimes we build unaware upon the sands of man’s castles.

We’re about to question one of those foundational truths of Protestantism—canonization of scripture. We’ll ask certain questions and address certain issues:


  1. Why is canonization necessary?
  2. Many Christians confuse canonization with "inspiration" and "revelation."
  3. It doesn’t make sense to limit God to 66 books throughout time & eternity.
  4. The doctrine can encourage "ultra dispensationalism," which leads to biblidolatry.
  5. The popular passage in Revelation 22:18,19 actually encourages God adding to His word.

And then we’ll ask the question: what is canonization? And where did it come from? What is its historical background? Plus give a brief summary.

My Disclaimer

I’m not a liberal; neither do I want to be. Theologically I’m a conservative and I’m happy to be in the conservative camp. Historically, I’m an "evangelical" Christian. Socially, where it concerns the Body of Christ, I am a liberal. That is, I believe all who confess Jesus Christ as Lord are my brothers and sisters—regardless of creed, color, or class. His Lordship, not creeds or theology, determines our Christian fellowship.

I deliberately draw the above distinction, for a liberal might not embrace the doctrine of canonization, but he denies the doctrine for different reasons. He denies, for the most part, "absolute truth." Not I. I like absolute truth. I believe in absolute truth. There is absolute truth because God is "absolutely there." The doctrine of canonization falls under absolute truth.

I question the doctrine of canonization for other reasons.

Canonization: Is it necessary?

I simply raise the question—why is it necessary for God to have 66 books? Why not 70 inspired books? Or 80? Or maybe He hasn’t written all of His inspired books yet. Why did the canon close? Who completed it and who authorized it complete?

Am I saying the present books in the Bible are not inspired and do not belong? Of course not. I’m saying, why 66? Why the closed canon? I know the word "canon" means—‘rule’ or ‘standard rod.’ And I know we must have a means of measuring which books belong in the Bible. I’m not questioning that.

I am, however, asking a very fundamental question. Why was the authority to canonize limited to our Apostolic Fathers and to early Christian scholars—Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origin? Why limit canon authority to the early prominent church fathers, Athanasius of Alexandria, Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius of Cyprus, Amphilocius of Asia Minor, and Gregory Nazianzus of Cappadocia, Hilary of France, Rufinus of Italy, and Jerome—to name a few.

Why can’t we add books today?

Why did we put such faith in Church Councils? Was God in a rush? Did these councils deserve our unquestionable trustworthiness? I think not. During the fourth century there was great uneasiness in the Eastern Church. It wasn’t until the Emperor Constantine, though not yet a Christian himself, had effected a reconciliation between the Christian faith and the Roman state (Christianity had officially become the official state religion) that a resolution was reached. The unity of the Church was of prime importance to Constantine, so he called together a council of bishops at Nicea in the year 325 to resolve the issue.

The meeting was a fiasco.

Three major parties were represented at the Council of Nicea: the Arians, "the great conservative ‘middle party,’" and the "Nicene" party led by Athanasius. The Nicene party won the debate. The other two parties lost.

My concern is--how could the emperor of Rome, who was not even a Christian, have the authority to appoint bishops? After the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, the "success or failure of a doctrine might hinge upon the favor of the reigning emperor." Thus secular authority intruded into all the central aspects of the church. It was a time of combining worldly nationalism with the church. J.C. Wand, former Anglican Bishop of London, states that "…the new Christian church was frankly national. The people were converted en bloc; the [pagan] temples were turned into churches and the pagan priests were ordained into the Christian ministry" (A History of the Early Church to A.D. 500, p.p. 256-257).

As I said, a fiasco.

Can we be so sure these men heard from heaven? Were they walking in the Holy Ghost at Augustine’s Council in 393 AD? The Third Council of Carthage, 397 AD? And later the Council of Trent? Were the heavens opened to these men?

I have my doubts. Looks like politics and Christianity mixing as usual to me.

Here are two more questions—why limit God to writing all His books during such a period of worldly national turmoil? Can’t God write in the fifth century, the fifteenth century, or the twenty-first century?

These are questions, I’m convinced, the average Protestant Christian has never asked himself, let alone thought through.

Some of us are suggesting the concept of canonization had its origin in the traditions of men and not the heart of God. Which brings us full circle—was it necessary to close the canon? I leave the question open.

Confusing Inspiration and Revelation

I find when saints are discussing canonization, they’re really not discussing canonization; they’re talking about inspiration and revelation, those two subjects so elusive to many Christians. Which brings up the point—how many saints are theologians? For example, everyone knows the Bible is inspired but no one knows quite how. As for revelation, who can master the subject? The biblical topic of revelation includes propositional communication and personal communion; both objective content and subjective response, and their interplay. I haven’t heard many laymen discussing these issues lately.

I have, on the other hand, heard saints discussing—does God speak today? Can He reveal Himself as He did to the saints of old? Can we see a burning bush today that never burns? Do saints today hear God’s audible voice? Are miracles and the manifestation of God’s power still available to us? Can we walk on water? Since the canonization of scripture, is God completely silent except speaking "through His Word?" Is that how He speaks to us? Are we to expect no manifestations in our time? Just what can we expect as twenty-first century Christians?

These are the real discussions I hear. Discussions about inspiration and revelation and hearing God’s voice. Which brings up…

Why Limit God to 66 Books for Time & Eternity?

Isn’t it a bit presumptuous of us—the God, who is "able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask of think" limited for time and eternity to 66 books! The God, who caused the sun to stand still, iron to float, and Jesus to rise from the dead in three days—limited? The God whom John said, "…And there are also many other things which Jesus did…if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written" (Jn. 21:25).

Even the Bible itself suggests an open canon. Jesus, should He want to, could fill a whole world full of books. No, we must not limit God—even in the amount of "books that should be written."

Encouraging "Ultra" Dispensationalism

Ultra-dispensationalism is guilty of "putting God in a time box." He can only do certain things within certain time periods. Example: some say "…the manifestation of the spiritual gifts ceased after the canon of scripture…" In other words, God used to do those things [miracles of power] but He doesn’t do them any more. We have the Bible. The perfect is come (I Cor.13:9,10). That’s the ultra-dispensationalist’s view. And sadly, we conservatives are too often guilty of promoting such a doctrine. A closed canon tends to encourage ultra-dispensationalism—an unhealthy approach to scripture. Of course, C.I. Scofield popularized dispensationalism back in the early 1900s.

I’m afraid there’s an unpleasant parallel here. The Pharisees were guilty of committing biblidolatry. They worshipped the Bible but hated God. They were dispensationalists. "…Moses we know but who are you?" they asked the Master one day. I think one of the saddest chapters in the Bible is Matthew chapter two. A group of Bible scholars get together in Jerusalem one morning for a Bible study (vs.4,5). They want to know where God is so they can kill Him! Studying the Bible in order to kill God. Sad, indeed. (The letter without the Spirit kills.)

Which brings up one of our very own traditions—our tendency to reduce the Word of God to something written. Jesus, in one of His strongest rebukes ever, said to the Pharisees, "…[Ye] search the scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life [but you don’t] and they are they which testify of me. You will not come to me that you might have life" (Jn5:40).

Jesus is saying—you have reduced the Word of God to something written. It’s not. It’s bigger than the printed page. It’s Incarnate! (Jn.1:1). It’s something spoken. Alive with rhema. The Living Word was actually standing in front of them. They missed Him. They were too busy studying the Bible in their laps. So God walked away.

The Pharisees made a terrible mistake. They assumed if they possessed the word of a thing, they possessed the thing itself. They thought—to know the Bible is to know God. And sadly, that’s the fruit of ultra-dispensationalism. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, not because of their doctrine, but because of their assumptions.

Wrong assumptions.

We don’t get life out of the Bible, we get light (Psa.119:105). Life comes from Christ, but the Pharisees wouldn’t come to Christ that they might have eternal life. They had their Bibles.

Is this not a similar attitude with more than a few church-goers today? I have been in services where worshippers adored the Bible but despised the moving of the Holy Ghost. They walked out of church when God came. How similar to the Pharisees.

I heard a Baptist friend of mine say, "…so many of us have a ‘book Jesus’ rather than a living Lord…"

That’s frightening.

Again, so that I’m not misunderstood—I believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. I love the Bible, but I don’t believe a book died on the Cross for our sins. You can nail the Bible to the Cross and it won’t bleed. It takes a person to save a person. It takes the spilt blood of Christ to save you and me. Redemption is found in the blood.

What’s all this rhetoric got to do with canonization, inspiration, and revelation. Everything. So many conservative Christians have been—I want to say "suckered" into believing since the scriptures were canonized--the church has had no need for miracles, the Holy Spirit, and, in some cases—God Himself. That’s dangerously close to the attitude of the Pharisees—if we know the Bible, we know God. If we perform the liturgy, we possess the Real.

All the above statements border on committing the sin of biblidolatry. And that’s a grave matter. A matter that caused Jesus to rebuke the church-goers of his day. Their Bible was their idol.

Canonization of the scriptures may not be the cause, but I’m sure it’s a symptom for having pushed conservative Christians into the trap of worshipping the Bible instead of God.

Then, precisely what is canonization?

Canonization—List or Rod?

I like F.F. Bruce’s definition because it represents what the majority of today’s Protestant Christians believe.

"…When we speak of the canon of scripture, the word ‘canon’ has a simple meaning. It means the list of books contained in scripture, the list of books recognized as worthy to be included in the sacred writings of a worshipping community."

--The Canon of Scripture, p.17

Note the emphasis upon "list."

Origin defined the canon as "…the list of the writings acknowledged by the Church as documents of the divine revelation." It is thought that the word "canon" appears to have been first used by Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, in a letter circulated in AD 367.

Historical Background

The Council of Hippo (393 AD) was probably the first council to set limits on the canon. Its statement was repeated at the Third Council of Carthage (397 AD).

"…And further it was resolved that nothing should be read in church under the name of the divine scriptures except the canonical writings. The canonical writings,

then, are these…

Of the New Testament:

the four books of the gospels,

the one book of the Acts of the Apostles,

the thirteen epistles of the apostle Paul,

the one [epistle] to the Hebrews, by the same

two of the apostle Peter,

three of John,

one of James,

one of Jude,

John’s Apocalypse—one book.

…Let it be permitted, however, that the passions

of martyrs be read when their anniversaries are celebrated.

--Canon 47

The canonization of scripture was a gradual process. First, there was the notion of scripture, then the notion of canon. Then the notion of the Christian Old Testament, then the recognition of Christian writings as scripture: from oral tradition to written documents, from written documents to scripture—Marcion and an early canon, Justin and the roots of a Christian Bible, Iranaeus and the principle of "canon."

Factors limiting the scope of the New Testament canon also came into play—the canon of Irenaeus, the Montanists, the Gnostics, the burning of sacred books, Constantine and the call to uniformity.

The main criteria for a New Testament canon became:


    1. Apostolicity
    2. Orthodoxy
    3. Antiquity
    4. Inspiration  --The Canon of Scripture, F.F. Bruce

So there was some rhyme set to reason.

The very word "canon" migrated into our language through Latin from the Greek word kanon. In Greek it meant "a straight rod used as a rule." The early saints used the phrase "the rule of faith" or "the rule of truth" when referring to the canon.

The point to consider is—the early saints did not use the word to mean "a list," but they used it to mean what the apostles themselves taught. It was a rod to interpret doctrine not a list of canonical scripture. That’s a critical distinction. Not until Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 AD) did canonical scripture alone become the "rule of faith." Later the Westminster Confession of Faith (1674 AD) declared the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments "…all which are given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life." So the word "canon" over a period of centuries went from meaning—rod (rule of faith) to list (66 books).

As I said, the canonization of scripture was a gradual process that took centuries to complete. But that gradual process did not make the "canon as a list" an inspired doctrine. I’m convinced, closing the canon to 66 books (turning it into a list) was the doings of man. The word "canon" never intended to mean "list."

The Last Chapter

We have not dealt with the last chapter in the Bible, "…if any man shall add unto…" (Rev.22:18). Of course, this verse is often quoted in defense of canonization. Let’s look at the passage.

"…I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book."

--Rev.22:18,19 (NIV)

To begin with, the New Testament did not exist at the time John wrote his curse against any who shall add to or take away from. Only a part of its books had been written. Even so, these books had not been gathered into one collection. That would occur more than a century later.

Then what’s John talking about? Interestingly enough, Moses said the same thing as John in Deuteronomy 4:2. (The Lord establishes his word in the mouth of two or more witnesses.) Moses said,

"…Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you." --Deut.4:2

It’s very simple. Moses and John are saying—no man shall add or subtract from the Lord’s word. The point of the verses in both Deuteronomy and Revelation is not that the scripture canon is full, but that man should not add to "…thus saith the Lord." Both passages actually favor God (not man) continuing to add to His word. It’s a warning—man should not add to God’s word. But God can!

How is that done?

Man adds to and subtracts from God’s Word all the time. Sounds startling, doesn’t it? How do we add and subtract from the Word of God? By proclaiming "…thus saith the Lord…" when God did not speak it.

It’s called ministering in the flesh.

Every sermon preached in the flesh is adding to God’s word. Every prayer prayed for selfish or egotistical reasons is adding to God’s word. Every time the Spirit nudges any of us to prophecy or pray but we hold back, we subtract from God’s word. We are withholding life-flowing ministry.

That’s the warning. There’s a curse for performing fleshly ministry. One is certainly taking away from his share of the tree of life as he ministers from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The fruit of one’s life and ministry is coming from the wrong tree.

The theme of the above passage is: releasing life-giving ministry, not compiling a list of certain books.

The interpretation of a full canon will not fit. For example, are we to assume that no scripture since Moses should be added? Are we cursed for adding the Psalms? Were there to be no more books after the five books of Moses? The interpretation doesn’t fit.

The emphasis of both passages (Deut. & Rev.) is upon God adding to His word, not man.

Look at it this way—every time a sermon is delivered under the anointing, God is adding to His word. He’s speaking His word. Every time a prophecy is given under the Spirit’s unction, God is adding to His word. He’s speaking His word. Ministry performed under the anointing is God adding to (releasing) His word. And yes, if God so wishes, He could fill up the whole world with books that He has authored. With prayers that He’s authored. With sermons He’s authored. The whole world is His for the taking.

Summary Statement

I said in the beginning, I felt that God has been dealing with me concerning the canonization of scripture. I’m confident He has. I must confess, I have felt the ever so gentle leading of the Holy Spirit as I’ve written this essay. The Psalmist said,

"…My heart is inditing a good matter; I speak of the things which I have made touching the king. My tongue is the pen of a ready writer."  --Psa.45:1

You might say, "…well, then, are you asking me to give up my belief in the doctrine of canonization?" No. I’m asking you to re-evaluate its original historical definition. As you recall, the early saints looked upon the canon as a Rod of Truth (a way of measuring inspiration & revelation), not as a list of books.

I’m suggesting, we return to its historical meaning.

We must remember—the concept (canon as a list) became popular around the time of Constantine. A period when the Church became infiltrated with nationalism and worldly teachings. Though the notion of the canon was, as said, a gradual process, there were nevertheless three councils that solidified the "list concept:" 1) Council of Hippo, 393 AD, 2) Third of Carthage, 397 AD, and 3) Sixth of Carthage, 419 AD.

To summarize my reasons for not accepting the doctrine—canon as a list:

  1. It is not necessary to limit and list the canon. The canon was turned from a rod into a list. A mistake of man’s wisdom.
  2. Many Christians confuse canonization with inspiration and revelation. They’re not the same.
  3. Who are we to limit God and His writings for time and eternity?
  4. The doctrine can encourage ultra-dispensationalism, which leads to biblidolatry—worshipping the Bible instead of God.
  5. The popular passage in Revelation says nothing about God not adding to His word. By implication, it encourages it.

I’m aware, as a conservative Protestant minister, I have touched one of our sacred cows. And I’m aware, our traditions are held in high esteem. Take the tradition of the rapture. I remember when the Lord began to crumble my castles built upon the sands of custom and culture. Not a pretty sight. It’s always painful to watch your foundation fall.

"…Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock…"   --Matt.7:24


On to the next sacred cow…

Touching Sacred Cows:
An Essay on the Rapture

by Lynn Ridenhour

Note: Using Bible scriptures, Dr. Ridenhour demonstrates that the rapture doctrine is an extra-biblical teaching. In light of church history, the teaching is new. For centuries the Saints did not believe in the rapture.

Grandpa had his favorite cow and she knew she was his favorite. How she seemed content, giving her daily milk, prancing unattended around her fields at leisure. Unharassed, she seemed to be in her own small world.

Then one day she charged my six year-old sister, Joan. My sister came running into grandma’s house crying and that’s all it took. Grandpa headed out the kitchen door, both feet in a fury. He was after his favorite cow. He found her and quickly let her know (in a way that only grandpa could) that she was not indispensable.

Fifty years later I still can see the look on that cow’s face.

"…What do you mean touching me! I’m your favorite cow!…" seemed to be written all over her face. Stunned, she hightailed it off into the bushes close to the pond, glancing back a few times at grandpa.

Touching sacred cows…

Perhaps that’s close to how we feel about our traditions, for to us, they’re not traditions. They’re sacred and held in high esteem. I’m convinced, Christians will give up their sins quicker than their traditions. It’s always traumatic when someone touches our sacred cow.

A Sacred Cow:

Dare we touch it? We must. Scores, if not millions, of Christians in the West have been taught the doctrine of the rapture—that we’ll be leaving here. That those in Christ will not have to endure the coming tribulation.

What about the rapture? Where did the doctrine come from? Did the early saints believe in it?

For eighteen hundred years the saints did not believe in the rapture, pretribulation, post-tribulation, or midtribulation. The teaching is new. In the light of church history, it’s new.

Scottish Girl’s Vision:

The pretribulation rapture theory was introduced in 1830 by a young 14 year-old Scottish lass named Margaret MacDonald who went into a trance. She described a vision where she saw the saints leaving the earth at the return of the Lord. Her "revelation" occurred while living in Port Glasgow, Scotland.

The vision was recorded in two books written by R.N. Norton, M.D., and printed in London, England in 1861. Two Brethren ministers, Edward Irving and John Darby, popularized her vision. The Plymouth Brethren accepted the vision as valid and the rapture doctrine "took off" during prophetic meetings at Powerscourt House in Ireland.

Irving’s views influenced C.I. Scofield whose Bible notes popularized the new theory among fundamentalist and evangelical Christians in the West. The rest is history.

Many fundamentalist and evangelical Christians today, however, have second thoughts about the doctrine, have re-evaluated their position. They no longer believe Christians will be "raptured out" of the tribulation. To name a few—Corrie ten Boom, Pat Robertson, Peter Marshall, Jr., and Demos Shakarian. There are hundreds, if not thousands, who believe there is no scripture that says saints will be raptured before tribulation.

Some hold to the pretribulation rapture theory to the degree that they believe anyone who teaches anything contrary is teaching heresy. I like what Rick Joyner said, "…Would it be better to be prepared and not have to go through tribulation or not to be prepared and have to go through it?…"

Good point.

Listen to Corrie ten Boom:

"…I have been in countries where the saints are already suffering terrible persecution. In China the Christians were told, ‘Don’t worry, before the tribulation comes, you will be translated—raptured.’ Then came a terrible persecution. Millions of Christians were tortured to death.

Later I heard a bishop from China say, sadly, ‘We have failed. We should have made the people strong for persecution rather than telling them Jesus would come first.’

Turning to me he said, ‘You still have time. Tell the people how to be strong in times of persecution, how to stand when the tribulation comes—to stand and not faint.’

I feel I have a divine mandate to go and tell the people of this world that it is possible to be strong in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are in a training for the tribulation."

"…We are in training for the tribulation…" I like that.

Rapture Scriptures:

Here are five main scriptures that seemingly support the rapture teaching: I Thessalonians 4:13-18 (most popular), Revelation 4:1, II Thessalonians 2:7, Daniel 12:1, and I Corinthians 15:50-58.

Let’s look at traditional views and interpretations first.

I grew up in the Ozarks in Missouri, and my family attended a small country Baptist Church. Every year we had our revivals, spring and fall. I can still hear those old fiery evangelists. "…Jesus is coming soon!…" they would say, almost yelling, waving their arms, their white hair a bit out of place. "…Prepare to meet your Master!…" Some of our preachers had bumper stickers on their car, "…In case of rapture, this car will self-destruct."

Traditional Views:

We were traditionalists. Preaching on the Second Coming conjured up pictures of white-robed saints soaring through the clouds, of cemeteries bursting open and the dead rising to meet the Lord in the air—all of us escaping the great tribulation just in the nick of time.

That’s one view. It’s called—pretribulation rapture.

Another view is: midtribulation. Saints will endure half the seven-year tribulation period, then be raptured. Still another view: post-tribulation. Saints will go through the tribulation, then be raptured.

An Exegesis of Rapture Scriptures:

Let’s look at the scriptures.

First, the most popular, I Thessalonians 4:13-18:

"…Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left [remain] will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words."

Centering in on what the passage is saying (and not saying), I see the following themes:


  1. The emphasis lies with the "coming of the Lord," not the "departure of the saints." It’s His return, not the Great Escape we’re to watch for.
  2. There is no indication of any time frame. Pretribulation, midtribulation, and post-tribulation interpretations were added later.
  3. Clouds represent glory.
  4. Trumpet represents "sounding out the endtime message."
  5. "Remain" is a key word in understanding the passage.
  6. "Caught up" is a key phrase.
  7. "What will happen" is the theme of the passage rather than "when will it happen?"
  8. The order of events is reversed during His coming.

His Return, Not Our Escape:

We must get rid of our popular notion that saints will be taken. They won’t.

In fact, Jesus prayed just the opposite. "…My prayer [Father] is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one" (Jn. 17:15)." All through the scriptures it was always the evil that was taken; never the saints.

Saints were protected while evil surrounded them. Noah and his family, for example, went through the flood, protected in the Ark of Safety, and ended up inheriting the earth. The evil were taken, not Noah’s family. Luke, speaking of this incident, records, "…the flood came and destroyed them all" (17:27). Not all the saints. All the wicked.

And Jesus said concerning the signs of the end of the age in Matthew twenty-four: "…As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man…" (vs.37).

Paul admonishes Christians to stand (not fly away) in the evil day. "…Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand…Stand firm…" (Eph.6:13).

As one brother put it—don’t think, however, that the Church will be here for the tribulation. We will be here during the tribulation. Good point. Isaiah tells us that the Lord will not allow his people to suffer the horrors of the tribulation.

"…Go my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little until his wrath has passed by. See, the Lord is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins. The earth will disclose the blood shed for her; she will conceal her slain no longer." --Isa.26:20-21

What a blessed gospel. There’s always been a place of refuge for the saints.

Church in the Wilderness:

Then where will we be? Raptured? No. Ruptured. Split apart. Hidden away. I’m not necessarily talking geography here (though it could be). I’m talking protection, spiritual protection.

The writer of The Song of Songs asks:

"…Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant?…They hold swords, being expert in war [the Militant Church]; every man hath his sword upon his thigh because of fear in the night." --Song of Songs 3:6-8

Who is this that comes out of the wilderness? John tells us. It’s the Church, having been hidden from the wrath of God, a "…place prepared of God…"

"…The dragon stood before the woman [church] which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man child [Last day Church] who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up unto God and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her a thousand two hundred and threescore days. And there was war in heaven…" --Rev.12:4-6

The militant Church is not escaping. We’re not going anywhere. Quite the contrary, we’re preparing for battle, for takeover.

The Church will give birth to a group of Overcomers during the end of this present age. (Birth pangs are felt now.) This group will go to war in the heavenlies against Satan and his angels. Satan will be cast down, tribulations will be no more, and the kingdom age will be ushered in.

The Militant Church will be birthed out of the Church.

Let’s return to our familiar passage in Thessalonians. Look carefully at the wording. For one thing, there is no indication of any time frame for a rapture.

Sounding of Trumpets:

Verse sixteen gives reference to "…the trumpet call of God…" That’s not the rapture.

The sounding of trumpets in the Bible have always carried special significance: i.e., announcing feasts, preparation for war, signaling an important message, calling assemblies.

"…Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain; let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord cometh…" --Joel 2:1

Our message in Thessalonians is referring to the last trump (I Cor.15:52), that last message sounded out before the return of the Lord. And that final trump is the restoration message (Acts 3:21). It’s the "trumpet sound" of restoration that will prepare the saints for battle immediately before the coming of the Lord. This message is vitally important, "…for if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for battle?…" (I Cor.14:8).

It’s the restoration message trumpeting forth in the endtime that will cause our Lord to leave heaven.

"…He [Jesus] must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets…" (Acts 3:21)

Back to our Thessalonian passage. Look closely at the cloud reference.

"…We who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air." (I Thess.4:17)


Of course, the question is: what clouds? As one brother put it, "…the Bible never says that Jesus returns to the clouds or on clouds. It’s very careful to tell us that he comes in the clouds, or with the clouds.

A critical observation.

Clouds represent the glory of God and glorified saints. A cloud of glory, for instance, filled Solomon'’ temple (II Chron. 5:14). Jesus was taken up into a cloud—into the glory he once shared with the Father (Jn.17:5) when he left the earth. He prayed in John seventeen that the Father would give him back his glory. "…And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began" (vs.5). Clouds represent glory.

Clouds also represent saints. The writer of Hebrews tells us that the Old Testament saints are a "…great cloud of witnesses…" (12:1). John and Daniel tell us that Christ will come with clouds (Dan.7:13, Rev.1:7). Mathew, Mark, and Paul say he will come in the clouds (Matt.24:30, Mark 13:26, I Thess.4:17).

But what about his ascension in Acts chapter one? Didn’t a "cloud" receive him out of their sight? Yes. But the passage (Acts 1:9-11) says, "…this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven…"

It says "…in like manner…"

Question: Where did Jesus leave from? He didn’t leave from a cloud. He left from this earth, standing in front of his disciples. He left their visible presence and entered glory. And he shall return "…in like manner..." My point is—the process is reversed.

Reversed Order:

Two things are reversed when Jesus returns:


  1. Our bodies are reversed and become glorified, and
  2. We see him descending from out of a cloud [out of his glory], descending back into our presence to "catch us up" into his.

As we meet the Lord "in the air" [in his glory] we will "…be with the Lord forever…" The phrase "in the air" really means "in his glorified realm." We shall be with him in his realm of glory forever, never to return to the "earthly" realm, to our old Adamic natures. What joy.

I’m aware, we’re with him now by faith. But there is a presence of the Lord yet to be experienced by all. Paul put it this way, "…While we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord" (II Cor.5:6).

As long as we’re connected in any way to this unredeemed body, we’re not "present with the Lord;" not fully. Paul likened our condition to being tied to a dead man and having to drag that corpse around with us everywhere we go (Rom.7:24). What a burden.

The longing of every Christian is to be rid of this unredeemed body (this old nature) and to be able to worship freely, undisturbed. We get a hint of what it’s like when Jesus yelled to the resurrected Lazarus, "…loose him and let him go…" (Jn.11:44). One day the Spirit will yell, "…loose him and let him go…" We will be released from this present nature, and…let go. Again, we’re given hints. During Jesus’ post resurrection days, he traveled at will, walked through walls, and communed on both sides of the veil. So shall we.

During the sound of the seventh trumpet (the trumpeting of the restoration message, (Rev.10:7), our bodies will be changed immediately before the millennium. The wrath ends at the last trump. Then the kingdom age begins on this earth.

"…The seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ [His anointed Ones]; and He shall reign for ever and ever." (Rev.11:15)

Jesus is now the Lord and we are his anointed ones in the earth. We are "His Christ." At that moment we receive our inheritance—Sonship and the earth. "…The meek shall inherit the earth" (Matt.5:5).

What a plan—redeemed Sons walking under the Shekinah glory while ruling a redeemed earth.

Moving on…

Two Key Phrases:

There are two key phrases in the Thessalonian passage: "remain" and "caught up."

The word "remain" is a very interesting word. Perileipo. This passage is the only place in the Bible where the word is used. Perileipo means "…to be left around" or "…to survive." The passage really reads "…We which are alive and are left around-- or have survived--unto the coming of the Lord…"

What a blessed thought. It’s the Overcomers that have survived the great tribulation. They are "…left around." That’s why the Lord is adamant about his shepherds and prophets preparing his people. God desires for his saints to be Overcomers. God's criticism against his prophets was usually directed toward their lack of preparing his people for the coming day of the Lord.

"…O Israel, thy prophets are like foxes in the deserts. Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the Lord." --Ezekiel 13:4,5

I believe the same criticism rings true today. How many of us are being prepared for the rapture?

Caught Up:

Another phrase…

"…We who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air." --I Thess.4:17

Of course, "caught up" does not mean "caught away." They’re not the same. Paul said one time that he was "caught up" to the third heaven (II Cor.12:2), but he wasn’t "caught away." In fact, he’s convinced his feet never left the ground, though he couldn’t say for sure. Paul is not talking about a physical trip into the sky; he’s talking about a spiritual ascent into the heavenlies, and he uses the same phrase "…caught up."

The word is harpazo, "…to take him by force." Those who survive the calamities upon the earth will be "caught up" into God at that time. The spiritual energy released from heaven at that moment—in the twinkling of an eye—will be awesome, indescribable. It will forcibly snatch our Adamic natures up into God. Mortality will have put on immortality with a tremendous force. And it’ll be over before you can blink.

Our bodies—and Adamic natures—were just changed. In the twinkling of an eye.

Three Comings:

When can we expect Jesus to appear in his glory with his saints? Or when can we expect I Thessalonians 4 to be fulfilled? Of course, no one knows the hour or date. We can, however, tell the times and seasons.

But first, we need to understand the Lord’s three appearances. In order they are:

He will appear…IN his saints,

TO his saints,

WITH his saints.

First, IN his saints. He will first manifest himself in his saints during the end of this present age in order to prepare them for takeover. Hear Paul,

"…But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace to reveal his Son IN ME that I might preach him among the heathen [non-Jews]…" –Gal.1:16

There is a group of people this very moment who are being prepared by revelation to share in his glory. That group is feeding on the revelation of the Son in them. Their lives at this time are hid in Him (Col.3:3)—hidden from the world and the Church. The Church hasn’t a clue regarding their existence. Certainly the world hasn’t. They’re the Manifested Sons of God who will one day reign with the King (Rom.8:19).

The greatest privilege for these people is not promotion, not security, honor and recognition. It's Christ revealed in them. Like Abraham, they too sojourn in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles, heirs with Isaac and Jacob of the same promises. For the most part, the world overlooks them, bosses pay no mind, neighbors ignore, and relatives often scorn.

These privileged saints are being groomed by the Spirit. They know endtime events. They’ve been cleansed of the traditions of the elders and have been prepared for the Day of the Lord to occur not only IN the saints, but TO his saints. They understand the prophets of old.

"…Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me, and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come TO his temple…" --Mal.3:1

We are that temple.

Once the Lord deposits endtime truth in his people, he appears to them. Who will he appear to? The Bible is clear—to those who love his appearing (II Tim.4:8). Not to those who defend their "pre-mid-post" millennial views. Not to those who argue his coming, who are contentious. Not to those who expect the Great Escape. But to those who love his appearing.

Question: why is it so difficult for us today to accept post-resurrection appearances, Ephiphanies?

Why should we believe such appearances stopped just because our Lord went to heaven? There’s no Bible to support such a claim. The Lord is not limited by finite time. For those who are open, and who love his appearing, he will appear! And why will he appear? John tells us. (By the way, Jesus had his circle of friends and disciples. He had his outer circle—the seventy who were sent out; he had another circle—the twelve who became his apostles; he had yet another inner circle—Peter, James, and John who became his friends. But there was John. No one was closer to the Lord than John. No one knew the Lord like John. It shows in his writings. He had a deep understanding and a deep love for Christ, deeper than most—or so it seems.)

Back to our question—why will He appear? Again, John tells us.

"…Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us [it has to do with the Father’s love—not the Son’s] that we should be called the Sons of God; therefore the world knows us not [doesn’t know we exist] because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the [manifested] Sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every man that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as he is pure."   --I John 3:13

He will appear to show us the Father’s love. There is a progression in discovering the love of the Godhead. As believers, we typically fall in love with Jesus first; then we become acquainted, and in love with, the Holy Spirit. However, very few believers know the love of the Father. It’s the Father’s love manifested in the earth that’s reserved for the endtime.

Christ will appear TO us during the end of this present age to show us the Father’s love in order that we can "…see him as he is…" for "…we shall be like him…" That statement has deep ramifications. As I said, God’s children, generally speaking, do not know God the Father. They know the Son and the Spirit. Nor do they fully grasp who they are. To be God’s child, and to know the Father’s love, though trite as the phrase may sound, is no small matter. Perhaps the greatest revelation of all is—I’m a child of God!

Here’s the plan. At the end of this present church age, Jesus Christ—through great and selected Ephiphanies--will introduce the Father’s love firsthand to those who love his appearing. Again, such a statement has implications. The phrase "…to those who love his appearing…" implies that we must be dead to our selves, no longer needing to defend our dogma and no longer contentious with the brethren. That hope of experiencing firsthand the Father’s love is what purifies us.

One final matter: no one can be in the presence of the glorified Christ and remain unchanged. As He appears to His selected saints in the endtime, there will be a bonding unexplainable, for "...we shall be like him…" Appearances of His Personage forever changes us. Brothers and Sisters, expect the Lord of Hosts to personally show up at your house.

That’s much more powerful than a rapture. r



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Re: Touching Sacred Cows - the beast in each of us; those who think they are good are bad; and they who know they are bad can be good. (J.E.M.)

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