The Rapture and the Appearing

J. T. Mawson

It would not be right to say that the Coming Again of the Lord Jesus will be two comings, yet it is clear from Scripture that it will be in two stages. The first will be His coming FOR His saints: they are to be "caught up" to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians  4:16, 17). This is spoken of as the Rapture. The second, His coming WITH them, is called the Appearing, i.e., His manifestation to the world. A good text for this is, "When Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory" (Colossians 3:4).

Question: Which of these two stages of the coming ought we to preach to the world?

The Appearing is our testimony to the world; the truth of the "catching up" does not seem to have been given for public preaching to the world, but for the comfort of the hearts of the Lord's own in the world, as we shall see; but the appearing of the Lord in glory has been the testimony of His witnesses from the beginning. Enoch, the seventh from Adam, the first of all the prophets prophesied saying "Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints to execute judgment upon all" (Jude 14,15). From his day to the first coming of the Lord all the prophets bore witness to the certainty of this same appearance in glory, and He Himself took it up, for all His words as to His coming in the Synoptic Gospels have His coming in glory in view. In John's Gospel only is the coming FOR His saints alluded to and that was to comfort their hearts. When they sorrowed at the thought of His departure, He said, "I will come again and receive you unto Myself, that where I am, there ye may be also" (ch.14). The Acts of the Apostles presents the Appearing and not the Rapture. It is the burden of the angelic message in chapter 1, which was the first message sent to earth from the Glory after the Lord had entered there. "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." Peter takes up the same witness in speaking to the Jews in chapter 3, and very specially in speaking to Gentiles in chapter 10. "He commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is He which was ordained of God to be the judge of the quick and dead" (v.42). And Paul also addressing Gentiles in chapter 17, says, "God now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: because He hath ap­pointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained: whereof He hath given assurance to all men, in that He raised Him from the dead." It is extremely in­teresting and instructive that in these two great sermons to Gentiles recorded for us in the Acts, the coming of the Lord as the judge is so prominent. Gospel preachers should make a note of that.

Question: Do you think that the angel's message in Acts 1 has in view the appearing of the Lord in glory?

I do not think there can be any doubt about that. It will be the fulfilment of Zechariah 14:4: "His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives," for it was from thence that He went up; and if we link up these two Scriptures with Matthew 24:16: "Then let him that is in Judæa flee into the mountains," we shall see the reason for that instruction, and be impressed with the way that Scripture interprets itself. To this I must refer again.

 

The Truth of the Rapture

Question: What place then has the Rapture?

When the Lord appears in His glory, we are to appear with Him (Colossians 3:4), and it is by the Rapture that we shall be with Him first, in order to come with Him when He appears. To instruct the saints at Thessalonica as to this was the object of the Apostle in writing his first Epistle to them. They had turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to WAIT FOR HIS SON FROM HEAVEN, i.e., they were looking for the Appearing of the Lord in glory, and knew nothing as yet of the Rapture. Meanwhile their friends were dying, some of them suffering martyrdom for their faith, and they were sorrowing for them, for they evidently thought that being dead they would miss the glory of the coming of the Lord. To comfort them in this sorrow and to remove it, the Apostle wrote, "I would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that are asleep, that ye sorrow not as others that have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him," i.e., when God brings in Jesus in all His glory as the King of kings, and the judge of quick and dead, those who have fallen asleep through Jesus are to come also, and appear with Him. God will bring them with Him; His word is pledged here as to that. But how will it come about? How glorious is the answer to that question! "For this we say unto you by THE WORD OF THE LORD, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent (shall not have any precedence of) them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the arch­angel, and the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord."

Question: That is a very wonderful word if we are to take it literally. Must we do that?

How else can we take it? It is the Word of the Lord. It is such an astounding thing that in making it known the Lord has met the incredulity that would naturally arise in our minds as to it, by giving a special revela­tion from Himself as to it; so that, in the passage we have more than inspiration by the Holy Ghost, we have that certainly, but what Paul was here inspired by the Holy Ghost to write, he had first of all received from the Lord, and it is the Lord's own word that has been passed on to us, to be received by us in simple faith.

 

The Law of Gravitation

Question: But it is said that such a thing is both un­reasonable and impossible, and some who would not deny the resurrection from the dead, cannot accept the catching up of the living. It is said that the law of gravitation would prevent such an event. How would you meet that?

I should say first of all that even though we could not explain this word at all, yet since the Lord has spoken it we should believe it, for what is impossible with man is possible with God, and the Word of the Lord is greater than the law of gravitation. But the law of gravitation presents no difficulty to faith or to the one who humbly reads and studies the Word of God. It is a natural law, and operates according to the design and decree of the great Creator, but it operates in the physical world and controls natural bodies. It is a natural law for natural bodies, but the Word of God tells us that our natural bodies are to be changed into spiritual bodies. Let us look at the passages that speak of this. Philippians 3:20,21: "For our conversation (citizenship) is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body (body of humiliation), that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself." And again in 1 Corinthians 15:51-58: "Behold I shew you a mys­tery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." These Scrip­tures have to do with this great event, the changing and catching up of the saints of God to Heaven, and at this point in our study the change is the important consideration. Natural laws control natural bodies, but our bodies are to be changed into bodies of glory like Christ's own body: the natural is to give place to the spiritual, and mortality is to be swallowed up of life (2 Corinthians 5:4), and what sort of laws will control glorified and spiritual bodies, think you? Not natural laws surely, but spiritual laws, the laws of the glory of God, and the greatest of all spiritual laws is that Christ is the centre of God's universe, and He will draw us to Himself and hold us there for ever. So that the law of gravitation need not stumble our faith in the Word of the Lord. It will continue to operate, when we have clean gone from under its power.

Question: Are there any events recorded in the Bible that would help us as to this?

Yes. "By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him" (Hebrews 11:5). And Elijah was rapt up into heaven in a whirlwind, accompanied by a chariot and horses of fire (2 Kings  2:11 ). And our Lord Himself was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of the sight of His disciples. The law of gravitation did not hinder these three great witnesses to the power of God, that subdues death and every other force to His own will. And here the fact of His power should be emphasised. This change in our living bodies is to be effected by His power, the power of our risen, glorified Lord, and it is that power whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself, as Philippians 3:21 tells us. No force, natural or physical, in the heavens, the earth, or nether regions can withstand that power.

Question: When the Scripture speaks of the spiritual body in contrast to the natural (1 Corinthians  15:44), does it mean that we shall be simply spirits?

No, a spiritual body, or a body of glory, is a body, and a body is substance, and spirit is not substance. It means that we shall have bodies suited to the Glory in contrast to our present bodies which are suited to the earth, or natural life. We are to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven (2 Corinthians 5); the character, power, glory, and beauty of the changed bodies will be heavenly; it will be the beauty of the Lord. The flesh and blood life will give way to the spiritual and heavenly life, and our bodies will be in every way suited to that life, but they will be bodies. The contrast is not between what is material and what is unsubstantial, but between what is natural and what is spiritual.

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