Unfortunately, most in the world of Christendom cringe at the word rapture when it is used in context of the coming of Jesus for His church One reason for this could well be that those Christians cannot connect the grace of God with the assurance we have when Jesus returns for His church. It follows that a biblically sound understanding of the rapture naturally leads to a greater appreciation for God’s grace and our liberty in Christ, and it removes any fear a Christian might have regarding the day it will happen.
Well over half of my life ago a young preacher said to me that he would not know for sure that he was saved until he stood before Jesus on judgment day at the great white throne judgment as seen in Revelation 20. The context of our conversation, and of his statement, was not judgment but the coming of Jesus for His church. He associated the taking of the church with a final judgment by which he would then know if he was saved or not. In reality he feared that at Jesus’ coming he just might be found deficient in his keeping of all New Testament “rules”.
In order to clear up any confusion about these matters it must be understood that Christians cannot purposefully be lax in their heeding of Jesus’ commandments, nor do they have license to live a carnal life. Further, there is no such thing as cheap grace, a false theology popular among some “seeker” churches where Jesus is Savior, but is not Lord. Those things are part of a hellish counterfeit belief system.
At the same time we need to understand that God did not give us a New Testament system of law keeping where hell is the penalty for imperfection in place of the Old Testament system of law keeping where hell was the penalty for sin. The fact of the matter about the human race is that every last one of us is guilty of breaking God’s law. But that which we know as the gospel is the good news that what God demanded in payment for our sin, death (Ezekiel 18:20), was freely paid by Jesus on our behalf. And if we believe and act upon what God said about Jesus’ death on our behalf (faith) we have His forgiveness.
But if a person believes salvation is based upon being 100% accurate 100% of the time regarding everything found in scripture then it is not only easy to be a legalist, but being a legalist is the only thing that person can be. Further, since not even a legalist can be absolutely sure they are 100% correct in all things biblical, then that person never knows whether they are saved or not saved. That kind of thing is not a life of peace based upon God’s grace, but is a life of hell on earth based upon law keeping.
Further, if a preacher believes that kind of thing then a very serious question must be asked: When he closes his sermon and offers the Lord’s invitation, does he encourage the unsaved to respond to it only to tell them they might make it? Though this is not actually spoken by legalists it is often implied in their teaching. Such people are fearful because they have no assurance. There is no wonder that the rapture of the church is feared as a time of possible condemnation instead of being loved as the Blessed Hope.
Christians will indeed be judged, but there is a vast difference between the judgment of the unsaved and the judgment of Christians. The judgment of Christians is found in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. The word for judgment there is “bema” and speaks of a judgment seat from which Jesus gives rewards. This is not a judgment of condemnation. Said another way some people, after becoming Christians, will have done works in this life that will withstand the test of fire like gold, while lazy and apathetic Christians will have done works in this life that will not withstand the test of fire like hay. No rewards there. This is not difficult to understand at all.
But the unsaved will be judged at the “thronon” which is a judgment of condemnation (Revelation 20:11). There are no saved people before that bar of justice for all present are judged according to their deeds which are listed in the books present, and no one can earn salvation through good deeds or rule keeping.
Because legalists have confused these two kinds of judgment they are fearful. It is illogical for a person to look forward to something, and especially to give thanks for it, if it is thought to be something ominous. But Paul tells us that those who love His appearing are to be given a crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4-8). So, was he incorrect in his attitude about the rapture? Did he misunderstand the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in this matter? Not hardly.
For the Christian who is confident in his salvation (1 John 5:13) there is no fear about the rapture. Not because he has been absolutely correct in his understanding of all things scriptural, but because of God’s grace that covers those things he did not understand correctly. If the grace of God is sufficient to cover our blatant sin, is it not also sufficient to cover our inability to flawlessly understand all scripture? Thankfully, yes!
Consider what Paul said in Philippians 4:6 where he told the church at Philippi, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus”. There are at least two things that these verses bring to mind.
First, if the rapture of the church is something that is either literally denied or is at best feared, where then is the reason for giving thanks for it? The removal of the church from this planet is described in 1 Corinthians 15:50ff and in 1 Thessalonians 4:13ff and in neither of those texts can a Christian find any reason to deny their plain sense meaning, nor to be fearfully anxious about it happening. In fact, just the opposite is true.
At the rapture we will forever be with the Lord, we will have new bodies that are incorruptible, we will see those we have loved in this life and who have been with the Lord for years, we will see those we love but have never met, we will never be separated from them again, we will no longer live in bodies afflicted with the ever present disease and trauma of this life, we will have no need whatsoever for anything…and the list of good things could go on without end. But to be a legalist who has never come to understand grace and who believes their righteousness is based upon their being right about everything, the joy of this Blessed Hope is dashed to pieces on the rocky shoreline of a salvation that is based upon a person perfectly understanding and doing all things scriptural. Who wants that kind of thing? And who would ever actually give thanks for it?
In the Philippians 4 text we are told in verse five, “The Lord is near.” The word for “near” can be translated “in close proximity”. A legalist might not be comfortable with such a thought because he, in a fashion, sees the Lord with clipboard in hand taking notes and listing all his failures in the books that will be at the Great White Throne judgment. Really? Unfortunately for some Christians, yes. As someone once said, you don’t have to worry about Santa Claus making a list and checking it twice to see who has been naughty or nice, what you have to worry about is Jesus making a list and checking it twice to see who has understood and done all things in just the right way.
Second, legalists often do not really have the peace of God. In their striving for peace with God they seldom ever know the peace of God.
Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The context is salvation through the propitiatory death of Jesus on our behalf. The enmity between a sinner and God is removed when that sinner becomes a Christian thus resulting in the cessation of hostilities between the holy and righteous God and one who was a rebellious reprobate. That is peace with God, and every Christian should know what that feels like. The war is over, Jesus has redeemed, or bought back the sinner’s soul with His own blood and there is peace between God and that sinner.
But the peace of God is different from peace with God. Go back to Philippians 4:7 and look again at those words, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The peace of God goes to a deeper level in the human soul because it goes beyond anything the human mind can understand. Said another way, the peace of God is incomprehensible and especially so to the natural man. That is why unbelievers just can’t get a handle on it and why they don’t understand the reason Christians act and react they way they do.
Someone once explained the peace of God by saying it protects the mental, emotional and spiritual welfare of Christians, and that it is absolutely necessary for successfully dealing with life and everything it throws at us. Any number of Christians are spiritual wrecks in that their souls are never at peace because each dawn brings another list of rules, and they are not even sure they kept the previous day’s rules. They want their last conscious thought to be, “Lord, forgive me…” before they go to sleep so that their perceived last-minute sins would be forgiven in case they die before sunup. Some of these people compensate for their lack of assurance by being divisive and condemnatory toward those Christians who don’t see everything their way. They think that their self-righteous contentiousness is pleasing to God and earns them points on His check list
Consider marriage. It indeed has a legal aspect, but even a legalist understands a good marriage is not a relationship of formality and personal perfection based upon an official document on file at the court house. They know it is all about the love a husband and wife have for one another. But when it comes to their faith it is a different matter. The reason they have difficulty understanding that they can have the peace of God which comes with assurance of salvation, and that they can look with grand expectation to the rapture is that they do not believe anyone can have that kind of relationship with God. They spend their lives trying keep God happy with them by perfectly interpreting scripture and perfectly keeping all the rules. When a husband and wife have a relationship based upon perfection and rule keeping they are said to have a dysfunctional marriage.
Consider just two verses in their context: “He has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit produces life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6) “There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears has not reached perfection in love.” (1 John 4:18) These verses, and others, should at least motivate the legalist to study anew, without a preconceived bias, the whole idea of what makes the gospel good news. Such a study might go far in breaking the bonds of legalism and its obligatory fear of the rapture.
Christians often focus on God’s love, and there is no way to overemphasize it. But we would do well to spend time thinking about God’s grace, also. You see, God would have been perfectly righteous by loving us, but withholding His grace. He could have told us that He loved us and that He would give us one more chance to keep His commandments. Does anyone think they could have lived a sinless life with a second opportunity?
Biblical Christianity is the only religion that offers hope based upon grace and mercy. It removes anxiety of facing God at the rapture, and replaces it with confidence based upon the fact that Jesus has done for us that which we could never do for ourselves. And it was all His idea to begin with. DLM