Touching Sacred Cows:
Canonization of Scripture & 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.
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
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
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
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.
But remember—we’re about to touch a very sacred cow.
Canonization of Scripture
Fact or Folly?
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:
- Why is canonization necessary?
- Many Christians confuse canonization with "inspiration" and
- It doesn’t make sense to limit God to 66 books throughout time &
- The doctrine can encourage "ultra dispensationalism," which
leads to biblidolatry.
- 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
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
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
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…"
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.
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.
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:
- 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."
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.
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
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:
- 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.
- Many Christians confuse canonization with inspiration and revelation.
They’re not the same.
- Who are we to limit God and His writings for time and eternity?
- The doctrine can encourage ultra-dispensationalism, which leads to
biblidolatry—worshipping the Bible instead of God.
- 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…"
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,
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?…"
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
"…We are in training for the tribulation…" I like that.
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."
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
Centering in on what the passage is saying (and not saying), I see the
- 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.
- There is no indication of any time frame. Pretribulation,
midtribulation, and post-tribulation interpretations were added later.
- Clouds represent glory.
- Trumpet represents "sounding out the endtime message."
- "Remain" is a key word in understanding the passage.
- "Caught up" is a key phrase.
- "What will happen" is the theme of the passage rather than
"when will it happen?"
- 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
What a blessed gospel. There’s always been a place of refuge for the
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
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
"…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
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…"
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…"
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
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.
Two things are reversed when Jesus returns:
- Our bodies are reversed and become glorified, and
- 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
"…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."
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
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
"…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?
"…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
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
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
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…"
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
Question: why is it so difficult for us today to accept post-resurrection
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