Preaching on the Rapture

Editor’s Note: This article is reprinted by permission from Warren Vanhetloo’s Cogitations.

“In the last days scoffers will say, Where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Pet. 3:3-4).

Years ago, we heard a great deal of preaching about the possibility of the rapture occurring in our lifetime. As I remember, 1980 was about as long as we expected to have to wait. World affairs were such that, to our eyes, the tribulation following the rapture would soon come about. And then the world situation changed. Things settled down, and new disruptions arose. And for the last three decades, there has been little preaching on the imminent any-moment return of the Lord Jesus Christ in the air for church saints. Men’s predictions and analyses failed. God’s plan was not adjusted a bit. He didn’t change as the world changed. So many had been so wrong; it was best to keep quiet.

We cannot today predict any more accurately than those of the last century. We can be more cautious of the conclusions we reach. The one thing we ought to avoid is that of neglecting to preach of the coming rapture just because some have overstated some things about it in the past. If it is in the Word of God, it is a part of what we are to proclaim as the whole counsel of God. From our human point of view, it is just as possible of occurring any moment now as three decades ago. We know no more of God’s schedule than did our fathers or their fathers. We do have the same Scripture they had.

A special reason for preaching occasionally about the rapture is given in the text itself. “Wherefore comfort, encourage one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:18). Believers today need the comfort and encouragement of the truth of an any-moment, sudden, unexpected taking up of church saints. No matter the joys or discouragements of this life, the anticipation of our resurrection dwelling with our Savior thrills the soul. If it happens after our bodies have experienced death, God says that those alive at the time of the rapture will not precede us. Together shall meet the Lord in the air, and ever be with the Lord.

Almost everything God reveals to us about the rapture is in one brief passage (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Each assertion is brief and straight forward. There are no difficult words involved. The sentences are simple rather than complex. The chronological sequence is clear. Almost every reader over twelve can read and understand each of the six verses. It seems clearly to be recorded so as to be understood and accepted for just what it says. Even the miraculous is not beyond comprehension.

This direct simplicity is in contrast to Old Testament revelations about the coming birth, life, and death of the promised Messiah. Those truths were revealed in various ways in a great many passages. To one working with them, prior to fulfillment, they would seem unrelated: a King of the seed of David, to be born in Bethlehem, to be born in a manger, to come from Egypt, to be a Nazarene, to be from Galilee, not a bone to be broken. The Holy Spirit could combine the scattered information for New Testament believers, and it was startling in its accuracy. The clear teaching of the rapture will also be startling when it occurs.

One thing remains clear and constant regarding the rapture: only God knows when it will occur. He has given no hints whatsoever. He will give no forewarning. It will all take place so suddenly that reporters left on earth will get more facts to report from the New Testament than from eyewitnesses. It will startle those left behind, but will not likely lead to a great revival. Although God is not willing that any should perish, their blindness and unbelief will seem to be so great as to look for natural causes of the phenomenon.

Warren VanhetlooWarren Vanhetloo holds A.B., B.D., Th.M., Th.D., and D.D. degrees. He served in three pastorates in Michigan, taught for twenty years at Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN), and twenty-three years at Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary (Lansdale, PA). He is still listed as adjunct faculty at CBTS. Dr. Vanhetloo is retired and lives in Holland, Michigan.  Since the death of his wife, at the urging of fellow faculty and former students, he sends out his “Cogitations” e-mail those who request it.
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Red Phillips's picture

I think one reason the Rapture is talked about less is because there is less unanimity of belief in the dispensationalist pre-mil system. I think popularizations like the Left Behind series have actually increased skepticism instead of reduced it.