Caught Up Together
Some Answer To Mr. Nee's Interpretations
- The Time of Grace
- Not Grace, but Judgement in the Tribulation Period
- Some Answer to Mr. Nee's Interpretations
- Scriptures used to support a Post-Tribulation Rapture
- The Question of a Partial Rapture
Is it true that the Lord Jesus may come at any moment, and before the great tribulation takes place? If so, will He then take all believers to His Father's house, or only some of them?
To understand this matter properly, it is absolutely essential to know the character of the dispensation in which we live. Israel under law was a nation greatly blessed of God, totally separate from Gentiles, as Peter said, not even permitted to enter Gentile homes (Acts 10:28). But they rejected their own messiah when He was presented to them (John 19:14-18); and further rejected the testimony of the Spirit of God through Stephen to the fact that this same Jesus was raised and received by God in heaven (Acts 7).
Then God sent Peter to a centurion's home to preach the Gospel of grace to Gentiles gathered there, though it was no easy matter for Peter to break from his traditions. He found that now Gentiles were as fully welcomed by God to hear the Gospel as were Jews. Though Peter did not then understand all that was involved in this great change. Yet God was working to bring Jewish and Gentile believers together, not as one nation, but much closer, as members of one body.
And God chose Paul, another Jewish apostle, to reveal the marvellous truth of this, "the dispensation of the grace of God" (Eph.3:1), in which it is declared that both Jews and Gentiles should be "fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the Gospel" (Eph.3:6). Gentiles did not become proselytes to the Jewish religion (in fact the Jewish religion rejected what Paul taught); but a totally new dispensation is introduced, in which all believers in the Lord Jesus, whether Jews or Gentiles, were "baptised into one body" (1 Cor.12:13). This is the church which, in Matt.16:18, the Lord Jesus spoke of building. It is totally separate from the Jews' religion, just as it is totally separate from the Gentile world. Compare 1 Cor.10:32; "Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God." There are three classes of men as seen by God in the world today, all fully distinct.
Gentiles are the nations of the world. Jews are of that nation that looks strictly for an earthly inheritance. But the church is of a far higher order. Her citizenship is in heaven (Phil.3:20); has an inheritance reserved in heaven (1 Peter 1:4). The lord Jesus has prepared a place for her in the Father's house (John 14:2,3). She is emphatically "not of this world" (John 15:19; 17:14).
God has appointed a day in which He will judge the world (Acts 17:31). But members of the body of Christ, the church, "shall not come into judgement" (John 5:24). Jews look for their Messiah to come in power and glory, to liberate them from their enemies, and give them their earthly inheritance (Isa.59:19-21; Amos 3:16-18). The church looks for the Lord Jesus as Saviour, to translate His own to their heavenly inheritance (Phil.3:20,21).
This dispensation of grace has already been the longest in history; but it will come to an end. Israel has all this time continued in opposition to the grace of the Gospel of Christ, and this has issued in grace continuing toward all mankind, the offer of salvation given to all the world, to all of world; yet of course applying only to those who receive it, who become thereby members of the body of Christ, the church.
But God's promises as to the eventual blessing of the nation Israel cannot fail, though He has forewarned that their blessing will be preceded by what is called "the time of Jacob's trouble" (Jer.30:6,7), a time such as the world has never seen, nor will ever again see, "the great tribulation" (Rev.7:14). This will be a dispensation totally different than the present dispensation of grace for it will be God's judgement, not grace.
At this time, He will be dealing again with that guilty nation Israel, bringing them back to their land, and specially facing Judah with the guilt of having crucified their Messiah. Rather than working to bring out from all nations a people for heaven (Acts 15:14). He will resume working directly with the nation Israel, and in connection with other nations, some favouring Israel, others opposed to her. No longer will He be gathering members for His body, the church: for those brought to God in the tribulation period will have their place either in the Jewish nation, or in one of the Gentile nations, unless being martyred, in which case they will be resurrected at the end of the tribulation (Rev.20:4), to have a place in heaven reigning with Christ. But none of these will have any place in the church of God.
Consider Luke 4:16-20. The Lord Jesus, reading from Isaiah 61:1,2, shows His mission of pure grace to the world, ending with "to preach the acceptable year of the Lord." Then He closed the book, though only a semi-colon occurs there, followed by "and the day of vengeance of our God." He had closed the book of Old Testament prophecy, and this remains closed until He Himself opens it to disclose "the day of vengeance of our God." The two then are totally in contrast. The first must end before the other begins. Those therefore in the dispensation of grace, saved by grace, and members of the body of Christ, has no part in the day of vengeance of our God.
This is confirmed by many Scriptures, some of which Mr. Watchman Nee has referred to in his effort to prove that only some Christians (the most faithful) will be taken to glory without dying before the tribulation begins. This is found in his book, "The King and the Kingdom of Heaven," pages 271 to 289.
On page 272 he states that "the wrath to come" (1Thess.1:10), from which believers are delivered, does not refer to the tribulation. But the word is used also in chapter 5:9, so very definitely the wrath of the tribulation, for it is "the day of the Lord" (v.2): "God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ." And believers are told they "are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief" (v.4). The world is in darkness, and the day of the Lord will come to it as a thief in the night. Not so for the church; she is of the day, not of the night.
But Mr. Nee strangely says that "even if it were granted" that this wrath has reference to the tribulation, "such an interpretation of the word 'wrath' would still be unreasonable because the great tribulation, on the one hand, is God's punishment and wrath coming upon the unbelievers, and on the other hand is Satan's attack and wrath descending on the believers. When Satan assaults the believers, the latter enter into the experience of the Great Tribulation, but do not come under the wrath of God."
In reply to this, 1 Thess.5:1-9 has not in it the slightest indication of Satan's wrath and attack, but of the wrath of God at the day of the Lord. Mr. Nee gives no Scripture whatever as to his claim of Satan's attacking believers. On the other hand, Rev.12:12-17 speaks of Satan's being cast down to earth at the beginning of the 3 ½; years of great tribulation, and having great wrath, persecuting the woman who brought forth the man child, that is, of course, Israel, of whom Christ was born; certainly not the church.
Page 273 of his book Mr. Nee says, that those who believe that all the church will be raptured at the Lord's coming teach that "the Great Tribulation is only for Jews, not for the Gentiles or for the church." His statement is not accurate. For while the great tribulation is "the time of Jacob's trouble," and therefore has its special reference to Israel, no reliable teachers have taught that Jews exclusively will be affected, but that it "will come upon the whole world, to try them that dwell upon the earth." Gentile nations are certainly included in this, but not the church, for the dwelling of the church is not on earth, but in heaven. Compare Phil.3:20. Earth-dwellers are mentioned a number of times in Revelation, and always in contrast to those who dwell in heaven. Mr. Nee has (perhaps inadvertently) passed over this simple fact.
On page 273 (heading "C") Mr.Nee again misrepresents the teaching of those whom he criticises. For while it is true that this teaching does consider Rev. 2 and 3 as referring to the church age (and who can doubt it, when it is only the seven churches addressed?) and chapter 4:1 indicating the point at which the rapture of the church takes place; yet it does not claim that the 24 elders represent merely the church as glorified. It is commonly taught rather that both Old Testament saints and the church are represented in this way.
The basis of this is found in 1 Chron. 24, where David appointed 24 courses of priests to serve in connection with the temple service. This was still in force when the birth of John the Baptist was announced to his father, Zachariah, who was 'of the course of Abiah' (Luke 1:5). Because there were thousands of priests, they could not come together at one time in the temple: therefore they were represented by these "chief of the fathers of the priests," or elders.
Now 24 naturally divides into two twelves, and 12 is the number of governmental administration. This is typical therefore of the two companies of the priestly family, Old Testament and New Testament saints, who are in this way represented.
Mr.Nee says that "24 is not the number of the church; only seven or multiples of seven are." Does he not remember that the very inception of the church publicly was through the instrumentality of 12 apostles? Number 7 is no doubt that the spiritual completeness, but number 12 is that of administration, and both are very definitely found in connection with the church. The city (the Bride, the church) of Rev. 21 has a wall with twelve foundations, inscribed with the names of the twelve apostles (v.14), and twelve gates, each of one pearl (v.21).
Again he strangely declares that "nowhere in Scripture does "elder" ever represent the church." Has he not read Acts 15, where "apostles and elders" came together as very positively representing the church? (vs. 4 - 6; 22). The very thought of "elder" implies experience in dealing with problems among men, not at all with angelic perfection.
However, Mr. Nee has decided arbitrarily that "these 24 elders are archangels who rule the universe." Yet this is only speculation, with not one Scripture as its basis. Where does he find in Scripture that angels or archangels were at any time called "elders"? Yet men are often called elders. Vine's dictionary of the New Testament says, "The word "elder" is nowhere applied to angels" (Vol.2, p.21). But for Mr. Nee to add to this that archangels "rule the universe" is an astonishing blunder. It is God who rules the universe (1 Tim.6:15,16). And all authority in heaven and earth is given to Christ, not to angels (Matt. 28:18). In fact, angels and authorities and powers are made subject to Him, as Man (1 Pet.3: 21,22). More than this, believers (not angels) "shall reign with Him" 2 Tim.2:12.
He asks on p.274 (3) "Can the church receive glory before Christ is glorified?" The answer is simple: Christ is glorified now, having finished His work of redemption (John 17:4,5; Heb.2:9). Believers will be glorified when Christ comes for them before the tribulation (Romans 8:17; 1 Cor.15:43). The fact that the elders sit on thrones with crowns of gold shows them to be redeemed men who have overcome in the conflict, and are crowned as victors. This crown is not the ruler's "diadema" that is, not the kingly crown; but "stephanos," the symbol of triumph in conflict or contest, a token of public honour for distinguished service. There is a marked difference between this and the kingly crown. But neither of these words ("stephanos" or "diadema") is ever used in connection with angels. The first is often promised to believers (James 1:12; 1 Pet.5:4; Rev.2:10, etc.): the latter is used of Christ when crowned with many crowns (Rev.12:19).
Mr. Nee's point (4) on this page is a claim that "the 24 elders have never sinned." Who told him this? White robes at least speak of purity in which they are invested at the time; but if it is not said here that the robes had been washed white in the blood of the Lamb, is it necessary to say this every time a believer is spoken of? There was no statement to this effect when the "best robe" was given to the prodigal. Are we therefore to suppose he had not sinned? This is a very weak argument, as is that also of his point (5) to the effect that "the elders never experience redemption," because they speak of those redeemed as "them." The answer to this is again very simple: they are speaking representatively for a great number.
His point (6) is speculation, and needs no answer. Point (7) affirms that "the church cannot bring people's prayers to God." This too is weak, because the elders represent a great number of saints, and their action therefore is representative.
Points (8, 9, and 10) are merely rationalistic arguments; for the vision that John was given on Patmos as to the future was not his personal entering into the actual accomplishment of these things, but observing in the form of a vision that which is symbolical teaching as to the future.
On page 275 under (D) he acknowledges that 1 Thess.4:16,17 speaks of the rapture, but claims that the time is not specified. However, if one considers the entire passage, Ch.4:13 to 5:11, it is inescapable that the rapture must take place before the Lord's coming with His saints. Ch.3:13 speaks of the Lord's coming with His saints, as does Ch.4:14. The Thessalonians were deeply concerned as to how it could be possible that those of their number who had died could come with Christ at His appearing. The apostle answers that they too who sleep in Jesus God will bring under Him when coming in power and glory, as well as the living.
Verse 15 then goes on to explain how this would be. Both the sleeping and those who were alive would have to go first to the Lord's presence before they could come with Him when coming in power and glory, as well as the living.
This is to be accomplished by the Lord's sudden descent from heaven, not in judgement, not to appear to the world, but simply and only for believers, the dead in Christ rising first, then both they and the living being caught up together in clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. This is the rapture, which is a prospect to fill the heart with comfort.
But Chapter 5 speaks of "the times and seasons." The Thessalonians knew of these from the Old Testament prophets, and needed in regard to the rapture. They had not known of the rapture preceding "the day of the Lord;" but they knew the day of the Lord would come as a thief in the night. The world then will say, "Peace and safety" just at the time when Israel raises an image to the beast in the temple area of Jerusalem, and they feel the beast is so strong that none can make war with him. Till that time it has been "man's day" (1 Cor.4:3 - margin); but this brazen challenge to God's authority will introduce the awesome and devastating "day of the Lord." "They shall not escape."
Verse 4 however assures believers that this is not their prospect. They are not in darkness: they are children of light. They will not have part in this "day of the Lord" in His dreadful judgement of the ungodly world, and His dealings in solemn discipline of the nation Israel.
They are told, therefore, because this is not their portion, to be sober, separated, devoted, as being not of the world. For God has not appointed them to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ. This is salvation out of the world before God's wrath falls.
As to the heading (2) and Mr. Nee's associating "the last trump" (1 Cor. 15:52) with the seventh trumpet of Revelation, it is important rather to remember that a trumpet speaks of a declared public testimony. And in regard to the church, this will indeed be the last public testimony rendered to the world as to the fact of her being a separated, heavenly people. What a voice indeed to a sleeping world, when multitudes are suddenly caught away! The seventh trumpet is rather the fullest declaration of the victory of Christ in bringing all the kingdoms of the world under His authority. Consider this in Rev.13:15 to 18. This is the time at which "the world-kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ is come" (v.15), not the time at which His saints are raptured. There is no mention of any such thing under the seventh trumpet.
Consider again, that if the church remained on earth until this time, then every converted soul would be a member of the body of Christ, and therefore all of them taken to heaven at the time of the seventh trumpet, as Mr. Nee's doctrine supposes. Then there would not be left one believer on earth to have part in "the world kingdom of our Lord!" Yet a Jew was told, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3). Then nobody at all would be left to have part in the kingdom of God on earth!
Under heading (F) Mr. Nee says that Luke 21:36 "no doubt refers to rapture." But this cannot be. The Lord speaks of "the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory" (v.27), and the title "Son of Man" is never used in connection with the rapture, but with His appearing in glory. The Lord is speaking of those who on earth will pass through the tribulation, and if faithful, will escape the snare of this anti-christ, and eventually stand before the Son of Man, as is true of the sheep in Matt.25:31-40. This latter refers to Gentile nations (not the church); while no doubt Luke 21:36 is specially referring to Jews.
Heading (G) on page 275. Mr. Nee here admits that Rev. 3:10 shows that at least some believers will be raptured before the tribulation. But he makes some believers will be raptured before the tribulation. But he makes that number comparatively small, for he confines it to Philadelphia. Now if it must be thus strictly confined, then all in the literal church in Philadelphia have long ago passed away: so that if this is pressed, it can have application to no-one today!
But he does apply it to at least some today, those who keep "the word of My patience." as the Lord says. Then he describes his thoughts about what this means, and asks, "Does every Christian keep the word of His patience in this manner?" But the Lord does not say, "in this manner." He speaks, not of how fully or perfectly they have kept that word, but of the fact that they have. This was true of all Philadelphia, for it contemplates only those who are born again. Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Laodicea all included unbelievers among them: therefore such a promise could not be made to them in this way. Does this therefore prove that the overcomers in the other assemblies would be denied this great blessing? Certainly not. Actually, every truly born again soul keeps the word of Christ's patience, in whatever measure it may be. If one does not do so, it only shows his profession to be false.
On page 276, under II-(A) Mr. Nee again fails to rightly represent the teaching that he opposes. It is not claimed by those he criticises (J.N. Darby, William Kelly, etc.). That "after Ch.3 (of Revelation) the church is no longer mentioned." Rather they have pointed out that from that time the church is never again seen on earth. Rev.5:10 no doubt includes the church, but these are in heaven. So in Ch.17:6, "the saints," and also Ch.19:14, "the armies which are in heaven." And we certainly add to this "the bride, the Lamb's wife" (Ch.19:7,8), and "the new Jerusalem" (Ch.21:2). It seems a matter deeply to be regretted that Mr. Nee has evidently not known what the teaching is that he has sought to refute.
He asserts that "the things which must shortly come to pass" (including the great tribulation) are testified for the churches (Rev.22:16)," and that "these things will not be written if they are not relevant to the church and to believers." But this is a sad ignoring of what the Lord does say. He does not say that these things are written concerning the churches, but for the churches. What is written for our instruction does not necessarily apply to our own case at all. When God revealed to Abraham that He would punish Sodom, does this mean that Abraham would have part in this? God expects believers to be interested in all that interests Him in the world, altogether apart from our being involved in the world's conditions. When Paul wrote chapters 9, 10, 11 of Romans to the assembly at Rome, did he mean to involve them in Israel's affairs, as though they too were Israelites?
Under (E) he refers to Rev.7:9-17 as being the church come through the tribulation. But these are "of all nations, and kindreds and people and tongues." These are Gentiles in whom the Spirit of God will have wrought during the tribulation, to bring them to God, and they will be blessed on earth, not in heaven, as the church will be. For though "they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple:" yet this is not in heaven, for "He that sitteth on the throne shall spread His tabernacle over them" (v.15). More than this, the city, the holy Jerusalem, which is "the bride, the Lamb's wife," that is, of courses, the church is described by John in Rev.21:9-27, 22:1-5: and he says, "I saw no temple therein." It is clear therefore that Ch.7:15 cannot refer to the church.
Under (C) - page 277 Mr. Nee refers to 2 Thess.2:6, 7, and emphatically insists that "one that restraineth" "cannot be the Holy Spirit, for the subsequent clause -- 'until He be taken out of the way' -- is not the proper terminology to be used in speaking about the Holy Spirit." Does Mr. Nee decide what is the proper terminology for God to use?
Strangely also he says, "Never do the Scriptures say the Holy Spirit is 'He that restrains'." Has he not read Acts 16:7: "they assayed to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit suffered them not?" This is certainly His restraining work. In fact, who is the great Person who restrains the full development and outbreak of evil in the world, if it is not the Spirit of God? The Son is not personally on earth, nor has the Father come to dwell on earth as has the Spirit of God at Pentecost. And He remains in the church, dwelling in each believer's body individually (1 Cor.6:19), and in the whole church collectively (1 Cor.3:16). The presence of the church on earth, indwelt by so infinitely great a Person, is a manifestly powerful deterrent to evil being allowed its full and dreadful expression, such as will be the case after the church is taken to glory.
This very simply answers Mr. Nee's question, "How can the Holy Spirit be said to 'be taken out of the way'?" The presence of the Spirit of God in the church will be taken out of the way by the removal of the church to heaven. He will no longer be present in that vast number of people in whom now He works in testimony to a world that cannot easily ignore such witness, however much they may hate it.
On the other hand, certainly the Spirit of God will begin working immediately in the world, not by his indwelling presence, but as He did even in the Old Testament, in the awakening of souls to face the facts of the judgements of God coming upon the world, and to bring them to repentance and faith. But this does not mean His dwelling in people then (such as is seen in His coming at Pentecost -- Acts 2). New birth and the indwelling of the Spirit are clearly distinct things. Today the believer has both. In the tribulation believers will be born again, but not having the Spirit indwelling them, which in fact was the case also before the day of Pentecost.
Again, under (E), page 279, Mr. Nee seriously misrepresents the teaching of those he opposes, saying that they "do not regard much of the four Gospels and the Acts as written for Gentile believers." He adds, "C.I. Scofield, for example, maintained that the so-called Sermon on the Mount is exclusively for Jews." But why did he not quote Mr. Scofield, or tell us where Mr. Scofield writes this? The writer can find nothing like this in the Scofield Bible, but something very different. To quote the Scofield Bible, page 1000, commenting on Matt.5: "The Sermon on the Mount in its primary application gives neither the privileges or duty of the church. These are found in the epistles. --- But there is a beautiful moral application to the Christian." If Mr. Nee has read this in the Scofield Bible, how can he possibly dare to say that Mr. Scofield maintained that the Sermon on the Mount is exclusively for Jews?
He adds also, "they bare all their teachings on the words of the apostle Paul." But the writer is acquainted with the teaching of J.N. Darby, Willliam Kelly, and F.W. Grant, and he knows absolutely that this is an untrue statement; for these writers carefully teach every book of the Bible, seeking to give the proper scope and character of every part of Scripture. If Mr. Nee has not seen this in their writings, it can only be concluded that he has not read their writings, for he surely cannot be deliberately falsifying their teaching.
As to his reference to Matt.24:14, under (F), "this gospel of the kingdom" clearly does not mean the same as "the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24): for the first connects with the kingdom, the latter with the dispensation of the grace of God" (Eph.3:2; Col.1:25), which began with the great sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, and ends with the rapture. It is of this dispensation that Paul is emphatically "minister," grace being the predominating message for mankind. The predominating message of the kingdom is the authority of the King: and this was preached before His death to the effect, "the kingdom of God is at hand." It will again be preached the tribulation period, for grace will have been so ignored by the world that judgement will be taking its place: and authority, rather than grace, will be predominant. This will compare with "the everlasting gospel" of Rev.14:6, 7, in which grace is not mentioned at all. On the other hand, as long as the church is here, it is her responsibility to declare "the gospel of the grace of God," not merely "the gospel of the kingdom," -- and not only up to ten or twenty years before the tribulation begins, as is Mr. Nee's strange misconception of the teaching he criticises.
Paul preached "the kingdom of God" alongside of "the gospel of the grace of God," for authority is not set aside by grace, and every believer is today in "the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ (Rev.1:9): but Mr. Nee was not careful to notice that Paul did not say in Acts 20 "the gospel of the kingdom", while he did say, "the gospel of the grace of God." The kingdom today is in a "mystery" form (Matt.13:11), not at all manifested in public character, as it will be in the millennial age. "The gospel of the kingdom" will have its full force when, in the tribulation, the judgements of God bear witness that the kingdom is about to be established in its Divine authority and glory. "The gospel of the grace of God" will not be preached then, for "the dispensation of the grace of God" will not be preached then, for "the dispensation of the grace of God" will have ended with the rapture of the church, and "the vengeance of our God" will take its place. Compare Isaiah 61:1,2 and Luke 4:16-20, referred to before.
Again, under (G), page 280, Mr. Nee makes an unfair deduction as to the teaching of J.N. Darby, W Kelly, etc. Whether he agrees or not, as to the first part of his sentence, Scripture says, "Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the Fathers" (Romans 15:8). And certainly His ministry in the Gospels shows a definite Jewish background. But Mr. Nee apparently objects to this, for from this he makes the assumption that the above teachers consider that "therefore whatever is commanded in the Gospels is not for us Christians, but for Jews." But these teachers say no such thing. They insist in fact upon what follows in Romans 15:9: "and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy" etc. Though the ministry of the Lord Jesus on earth, having a Jewish background, was primarily for Israel, yet much of it was just as applicable to Gentiles, as these reliable teachers insist, though it is important to discern in every context what applies and what does not apply to Gentiles, and what applies to the church, and what does not apply. But it is sad that a Christian brother would make such assumptions as to put the teachings of his brethren in a wrong light. May it be a lesson to us all to be careful to understand our brethren before criticising them.
On his page 281 Mr.Nee proceeds to give Scriptures that he considers prove that the church will go through the tribulation.
We agree that this passage should be read very carefully. Verse 1 is intended to comfort and reassure the saints, by the reminder of the coming of Christ and their gathering together unto Him (the rapture) as being their prospect, rather than their being involved in "the day of the Lord," which of course is later than the rapture. For they had received information letter, purporting to be from Paul, and claiming that "the day of the Lord" was then present. This troubled them, for no doubt the persecutions they suffered affected them questioningly, and they wondered if Paul had been mistaken in his first epistle to them. Of course, Satan was behind those who forged such letters, and the saints needed settling. They were not to be deceived by men. For the day of the Lord would be far more dreadful than anything yet on earth.
Nor will this come until after the apostasy of Christendom leads to the revealing of "the son of perdition," the anti-christ. He will be revealed after the church is taken to glory, and before the middle of Daniel's 70th week (Dan.9:27). The last 3 ½; years of this is called "the great tribulation," and is initiated by the placing of "the abomination of desolation" in the temple area of Jerusalem. This is "the image to the beast" (Rev.13:14), raised by the anti-christ, and is the event that signals the advent of "the day of the Lord." Mr. Nee says that the day of the Lord "is the coming of Christ and rapture. But it is not so. The rapture is not the day of the Lord, but the coming of the Lord for His saints. And the day of the Lord begins some time before He comes in His great power and glory, for it involves all the terrible judgements of the 3 ½; year great tribulation. Compare 1 Thess.5:2,3; Joel 1:15; Jer. 46:10; Amos 5:18-20; Zech.14:1,2. That day of course culminates in His coming in His great glory, but the term even embraces the whole time from then until the heavens melt with fervent heat, and eternal conditions of glory are introduced after the millennium. See 2 Peter 3:10. Today is "man's day" (1 Cor.4:3 - margin), for God is allowing the will of men to exert and express itself in bold independence, until man exceeds to the point of brazenly, publicly challenging the authority of God by the bringing of idolatry into God's temple. This will begin "the day of the Lord," and "sudden destruction" will spread terrible desolation in Israel and the surrounding nations for 3 ½; years, at the end of which the Lord will appear in power and great glory, to subdue all under Himself. Compare Dan.9:27, Matt.24:15-30.
Verse 4 (2 Thess.2) shows that the anti-christ, a Jew, will sit in the temple of God (in Jerusalem, of course), claiming to be God. But Mr. Nee does not even comment on verses 6 to 9, though he has said elsewhere that it cannot be the Spirit of God who now restrains the outbreak of evil. But the Thessalonians knew what Paul referred to (v.6). Why does Mr. Nee not know? There is no other Person to whom this can refer but God; and it is the Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, who is now dwelling in the church on earth. When the church is taken at the rapture, then of course the power of the Spirit in the church will be "taken out of the way." It is only after this that the wicked one will be revealed, the anti-christ. The words are definite. This man of sin will not be revealed until after this event. But Mr. Nee does not have anything to suggest this might be, while he denies the only interpretation that appears possible. Did he take his own advice to "read this passage very carefully?"
1 Cor.15:50-55; 1 Thess.4:16, 17
It is of course evident that these two passages describe what will take place at the same time, at the rapture. We have already seen that the time cannot be after the man of sin is revealed. Mr.Nee connects "the last trump" with the seventh trumpet of Revelation, because it is the last he reads of chronologically in the Bible. But this does not decide the matter. For instance in 1 John 2:18 we read, "It is the last time." But this does not mean there will be no more time in the future. It does mean that we are to expect the church's history on earth to terminate very soon. "The last trump" similarly, as we have before remarked, is the last declared public testimony in reference to the church, towards the world. The seven trumpets of Revelation have no reference to the church at all, but are God's public, declared testimony in reference to His judgements of the world.
Moreover, one need only read Rev.11:15 to 18 to find that it is impossible to fit in the rapture of the church with the sounding of the seventh trumpet. If the church were taken then, this of course would include every believer living at the time, and not one believer would remain to have part in "the world kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ."
Matt.24:3; 13:40; 28:20
In this first passage the disciples had no idea of the church age when they questioned as to "the end of the age." But the Lord uses the expression in Matthew to refer to the period of time in which He will sum up His dealings with Israel and the nations, and introduce His kingdom. This refers actually to the end of the age of Judaism, which has been interrupted by the present dispensation of grace (a practical parenthesis in history): but to be resumed after the church is taken, as in intimated in the seventieth week of Daniel (Chapter 9:25-27). This seventieth week is "the end of the age." This of course in no way affects the question of the rapture, or its time. Nor does 1 Cor.15:25, Acts 2:35, or 1 Tim.6:14.
At the bottom of page 282, Mr.Nee begins treatment of his contention that some believers will be raptured before the tribulation, and others at the end of it. He cannot escape the force of various passages that speak of believers being taken before the tribulation, but limits these to only specially faithful believers.
So he acknowledges that Christ must come first, or we could not be told to wait and watch for Him. If the anti-christ came first, then we should be looking for him before the coming of the Lord, and this is a wrong occupation. Therefore he claims that the Lord will come for some believers first. But at what point this coming is indicated in Scripture he does not suggest.
However, he involves the whole matter in confusion, for if we today are looking for Christ, then He comes, taking some believers, but disappoints us by leaving us behind, then we are in the very place that he admits is wrong, for we should have to look for anti-christ before we could ever expect Christ Himself again!
And he adds that, if all were raptured after the tribulation, "the church would lose her hope --- for included in this hope is the blessing of escaping the tribulation." Can he have so strange a conception then, that it is right that part of the church (the far larger part) should lose its hope, if the very small part does not? The church is "one body," is indwelt by "one Spirit," and has "one hope" (Eph.4:4). When God Himself admonishes that there should be no divisions among the saints of God (1 Cor.1:10), is He Himself going to divide His church in this way?
His referring Rev.16:5 ("behold, I come as a thief") to the rapture is however a great mistake, for to the church the Lord does not come as a thief (1 Thess.5:4): this will be true only to the unwatching world, which is in darkness. Believers expect the Lord, and will be glad for His coming. To the world He will be neither expected or welcome.
Under (F) page 283, Mr. Nee is right in distinguishing between Christ coming for the saints, and Christ coming with the saints. And of course the first must take place before the latter. But he evidently thinks that this will be only a small, select group of those who have been specially faithful above others, and also that this would not include those "who sleep in Jesus," who will be raised according to 1 Thess.4:14-16. For he considers that this event described in 1 Thess.4 will take place with His saints.
Notice here at this point also that it is to the Thessalonians that this wonderful revelation is given as to the rapture of the saints. Mr. Nee says this refers to a rapture for the least faithful, while a previous rapture is for the most faithful. But he surely knew that the Thessalonians were commended for their devoted, faithful witness to the gospel of Christ in such a way as to be a shining example to all the assemblies. See 1 Thess.1:5-10. If this passage as to the rapture was in an epistle to the Corinthians, he might have some semblance of excuse for suggesting it has reference to the least faithful believers, for they were reproved for being carnal and immature. But if the Thessalonians were not to expect the Lord before the tribulation, then who are the specially faithful class that Mr.Nee thinks will be taken in a previous rapture? And when Paul says, "We which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them" (1 Thess.4:17), does he mean "we who are the least faithful believers." This is unthinkable.
On page 284 (A) he refers to Rev.3:10, admitting that some at least will be kept out of the hour of trial, the tribulation, not just from the tribulation itself, but from the hour, that is, the time of it. But since this is only mentioned as to Philadelphia, he claims that it can therefore only refer to one-seventh of the total number of Christians on earth (since seven churches are found in Rev.2 and 3). But it is ignorance to say that, because this is not mentioned as to others, therefore it cannot be applicable to any others. Is it only the faithful in Sardis who will not have their names blotted out of the book of life? (Rev.3:5) No. This is certainly applicable to every true believer. And so is Rev.3:10. Mr. Nee asks, "Do all believers today keep the word of the patience of Christ?" And he answers, "Obviously not." But this is merely his personal deduction. Every believer does keep the word of Christ's patience. Compare John 17:6-10. The Lord says, "they have kept thy word," and lest any should question as to how many had done so, He adds, "All mine are thine, and thine are mine, and I am glorified in them." If one does not keep His word therefore, he is not a true believer. It is not a question here of the measure in which one keeps the word, but of the fact that he does. The measure no doubt is different in every believer, but the fact is true of all.
Luke 21:36. This passage does not have any reference to the rapture at all. Beginning with verse 25 Luke has passed over the rapture at all. Beginning with verse 25 Luke has passed over the long history of the grace of God, and speaks of the time of the end, when Israel and the nations will again be prominent, and the day of the Lord begins. Those who pass through those days then, and particularly the suffering remnant of Israel, are called to watch and pray always, - not that they may be taken out of the hour of trial, but that they may escape the things that come to pass, that is, be preserved through all the tribulation without dying, "and stand before the Son of Man." This has to do with "the kin of the Son of man" on earth, not with being raptured into the presence of the Lord Jesus in heaven.
On page 287 (C) Mr. Nee claims that Matt.24:42 "suggests rapture before the tribulation." But verses 36, 42, and 44 all refer, not to any rapture at all, but to the coming of the Lord in power and glory at the end of the tribulation. And no-one knows the day nor the hour when this will be, no more than we know the day nor the hour of the rapture, which taken place at least seven years before. Those taken (vs.37-41) are taken in judgement and death; others left to live beyond the tribulation, on earth.
As to Rev.7:15 and Luke 21:36, these do not involve rapture at all. Nothing of this kind is said, as it is in 1 Thess.4:17. Nor does Mark 13:32 refer to the rapture, but to the coming of the Lord in judgement.
On page 288 (B) Mr. Nee says "that while the act of changing (see 1 Cor.15:51-52) is indeed according to grace, the act of being taken (rapture) is according to works." But Titus 2:11 to 13 shows that it is the grace of God that brings salvation, that also teaches us to live soberly, righteously, and godly, and to look for "that blessed hope." Grace alone is involved in this, not works. Works are mentioned later, at the end of v.14, but not an meriting "that blessed hope." Such a thing would be a dreadful blight on the sovereign work of God. And if it is by works we are raptured, then those whose works were not sufficient would never be raptured, even in what Mr. Nee calls the second rapture; though with strange inconsistency he does conclude that all remaining believers will be taken at that time!
Heb.9:28 should be carefully considered here also: "Unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time apart from sin unto salvation." This is the completion of salvation, the future redemption of our bodies, at the coming of the Lord for His saints. Would anyone dare to suggest that this salvation is by works, and not by grace? What works could ever merit such a salvation as this? Absolutely none! Only the pure grace and power of God will accomplish this. Would Mr. Nee draw a line at just point where one's works have been sufficient to deserve this rapture, dividing therefore between the most faithful and the least faithful of believers? There are many varying degrees of difference in this matter, but he would not say there are many various raptures.
Also, he claims that none of the sleeping saints will be raptured in the first rapture, but only those living whose works have merited this. But what of the number of godly saints, apostles, etc., who have been more devoted than those living today?
If God has decreed that those whose works are deficient must pass through the great tribulation, then manifestly this should apply to all believers in this category, including those who have died. But Mr. Nee says we need not be concerned about this, because the judgement-seat of Christ will take care of it. This ignores the question. God's justice has no double standard such as this. As we have seen the rapture has nothing to do with works, as does the judgement-seat of Christ. It is grace alone that will bring all believers to heaven, but rewards will be according to works, which will be manifested at the judgement-seat of Christ (1 Cor.3:14).
1 Cor.15:50. He claims under (P), page 288, that this verse "we shall all be changed" does not indicate that the change will take place for all believers at the same time. But the same chapter, verse 23 tells us, "they that are Christ's at His coming," which leaves no question as to the time.
Matt.13:28, "Gather the wheat into my barn." Objecting to the thought of all the wheat being gathered at once, Mr. Nee says "it should be noted that the times of ripening for wheat are not the same. Thus there are the firstfruits and the later harvest." Unwittingly here he justifies Scripture as in opposition to his own thoughts: for Scripture says, "Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at His coming" (1 Cor.15:23).
1 Thess.4:15, 17: "the living who remain" (New Trans.) To escape the force of this passage Mr. Nee uses his own translation here: "we that are alive, that are left," and says that this would be unnecessary repetition if some had not before that time been raptured. But the apostles here speaking of the living in contrast to those who have died, that is, those who remain living up till that time. There is no repetition here at all, but simply care to be certain that this is understood. Those living therefore at the coming of the Lord will "in no way" precede those who are asleep. This is absolutely positive: there will be no rapture before "the dead in Christ rise first." And then, all believers will be caught up together," to meet the Lord in the air.
In all of this matter the proper affections of the heart toward Christ are vitally involved. If a lax believer is told that the Lord will not come for him till the end of the tribulation, he is practically sure to continue his laxity, considering anyway that he is not "the cream of Christian profession," and waiting at least until the anti-christ is revealed before thinking of changing his unprofitable ways. It is the principle, "my Lord delayeth His coming," and such teaching would not encourage his love for the Lord at all, but make him feel he is put under some obligation of works in order to be raptured before the tribulation.
If true believers are told to look at any time for the Lord Jesus to take them to His presence because of His pure love and grace toward them, this is a powerful incentive to awaken their own unfeigned love for Him personally, and to desire to avoid that which is contrary to Him. This tells them clearly that they "are not of this world," that their true citizenship is "in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour" (Phil.3:20). This puts no legal obligation of works upon them, but uses the powerful influence of the grace of God, by which to produce good works. It is consistent with "the true grace of God, in which ye stand" (1 Pet.5:12). And it is the true completion of "the dispensation of the grace of God," so totally distinct from "the day of vengeance of our God," which will come upon Israel and the nations of the world.
Enoch is a beautiful type of this rapture of the saints, for he was translated to heaven without dying, just before the flood came upon the world of the (Gen.5:24). "He had this testimony, that he pleased God:" (Heb.11:5). And faith is the one living principle that pleased Him. It is true that all believers have faith, yet the measure and activity of it is not the same in all. The proper character of the church is to walk with God. In practice therefore let us be true to character. If we fail in this in some points, will this deprive us of the hope of the church? Certainly not! "We look for the Saviour," and whether or not we disappoint Him, He will not over disappoint one of His beloved, blood-bought saints. What praise and worship therefore He now deserves from every heart!