SLIP SLIDING AWAY
Dr. Charles F. “Chuck” DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
JANUARY 31, 2016
29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
— Matthew 24:29-44, ESV
Books have been written about it. Movies have been made about it. Believers and unbelievers talk about it. Yet the word “rapture” is not included in any version of the Bible.
This doesn’t mean that it won’t happen. “Trinity” is a word not mentioned verbatim in the Bible, either, but everywhere it is written that the one true and living God reveals Himself in the three persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
So it is with “rapture,” an event described as the joyful rising of the people of God to meet the synonymous second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The prophets point to it (Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Amos, Joel), the Apostle Paul definitively describes it (ref. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17), and the book of Revelation paints a perfect picture of it.
But perhaps the best place in the Bible to study the rapture and the second coming of Christ is the last sermon Jesus preached during his first coming, the “Olivet Discourse.” Already we have looked at the birth pains (ref. Matthew 24:1-14) and the signs of the times (ref. Matthew 24:15-28) which precede the rapture. Now we shall take a look at the rapture itself in Matthew 24:29-44.
The Rapture is Public, Not Secret
As a young Christian in Baptist churches, most of what I heard about the rapture was a secret. In other words, I was taught it would be a secret event whereby Jesus would come back in secret and Christians on the planet would secretly disappear. Other people would simply look around dumbfounded, while cars crashed and planes fell from the sky. Sermons described the event in this way, speculative books and cheesy movies have been made depicting a so-called secret rapture, and there is even a new television series, The Leftovers, which tries to imagine it on non-religious terms.
Look at the way Jesus describes it in His stellar sermon. There will be falling stars, a shaking universe, an ear-splitting trumpet, and everybody on earth will watch as Jesus appears “with power and great glory.” John concurs at the beginning of The Revelation by telling us there will be really nothing secret about it (ref. Revelation 1:7). You’d have a much better chance of keeping the Super Bowl a secret than you would the second coming of Jesus Christ!
Look at what else is revealed, too. “Tribulation” will take place before the rapture, not after it. The birth pains and signs of these times have already been noted in the previous paragraphs. Furthermore, they have been virtually fulfilled on the present world stage. When the rapture happens, “the elect” will be ushered by the angels into the safety and salvation of the Lord. That’s us, the people of God, who were chosen by God by grace before creation and chose to follow Christ by faith in life. Left behind will be unbelievers, nominal believers, hypocritical believers, and those who believed in the wrong gods. The real secret is that it is not secret, but public and final, and there won’t be any second chances for the lost and left behind to come to Christ after the rapture.
The Rapture is a Certainty, Not a Possibility
Admittedly, different Christians paint varying pictures of the rapture with contrasting tribulational and millennial colors highlighted with pre, mid, and post hues. It is possible that my plain rendering of this text is not as accurate as more learned colleagues. But while different views of the rapture are a possibility, the second coming of Jesus Christ is an absolute, biblical certainty.
The Old Testament prophets made many proclamations concerning the first coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. They plainly stated that God Himself would come to us as baby born to a virgin mother in the tiny town of Bethlehem, grow to be a perfect man performing miracles and preaching the kingdom of God, then die as a result of crucifixion before rising again and returning to Heaven. This did not probably happen. This certainly happened!
The second coming of Jesus is not a speculation, it is not a probability, it too is an absolute certainty, because it was spoken by the Son of God Himself and written in the infallible word of God, which “will not pass away.”
Again, while various scenarios of the end times are a possibility, the event itself is certain to take place after “all these things” Jesus foretold have come to pass with “this generation” on the scene. But to what does “all these things” and “this generation” refer? “All these things” harkens to the birth pains and signs of the times addressed in the previous two paragraphs, which have happened or are happening now. The certainty of “this generation” which will actually witness the rapture is a little harder to define.
The answer must be found in the “fig tree,” an often used symbol in the Bible depicting the nation of Israel. In the Gospels, Jesus curses a “fig tree” to symbolize the end of the Old Covenant and beginning of the New. Yet when the New Covenant is brought to an end with the rapture of the church and return of Christ, the “fig tree” is still perpetually planted on the earth.
While the nation of Israel no longer plays a part in soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), it still has a significant place on the stage of eschatology (the doctrine of the end times). The Jews will be a viable and visible people when Christ comes again, which in itself is a prophetic miracle. Since the first coming of the Messiah, the Jewish people have survived two millennia of destruction, persecution, dispersion, and attempted annihilation. Though they are not God’s people, and desperately need to be saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, they are still the generation who bore the law, the writings, the prophets, and the Messiah and King, who came and is certainly coming again, the Lord Jesus Christ!
I am appreciative of the late, great Bishop J.C. Ryle’s “Expository Thoughts from the Gospel of Matthew” for this understanding, and he wrote at the turn of the 20th century, a half-century before Israel became a recognized state again in 1948. They may not be God’s people with respect to the gospel, but they are still God’s clock. But please, be careful how you tell time.
The Rapture is Unexpected, Not Dated
Edgar Whisenant, a retired NASA engineer from Little Rock, published a popular pamphlet entitled “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988.” Obviously, he was a little off, in more ways than one. So are the multitudes of other date claimers who have appeared on the scene since the reinstatement of the nation of Israel in 1948.
But it is easy to see where the overzealous Whisenant and others went wrong. If a “generation” is forty years, then 1948 plus 40 equals 1988. What if a “generation” is 80 years, what will you be doing in 2028? What if it is the proverbial lifespan of 70 years, with 2018 knocking on the door? Knock it off! Jesus says very plainly, “Concerning that day and hour no one knows.”
While we do not and cannot know the date of the rapture, we do know what the world will look like when it happens. Christians will be completing the task of world evangelization. Jews will be a viable people under yet another threat of extinction. People of the world will consider Bible-believing Christians on the same plane as Noah, who surely was thought to be a nut in his day. The world will be, in the words of Paul Simon, “Working our jobs, collecting our pay, believe we’re gliding down the highway when in fact, we’re slip sliding away.”
We expect the return of Christ but we do not know when to expect Him. We simply believe He has come, for salvation, and will come again, for coronation. When the rapture does occur, it will be public, cataclysmic, and final. God’s people will rise to eternal life, all others will slip and slide away into eternal death.
“Therefore you must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org