Wars of God

The Rapture and the First Resurrection

Many Christians who believe in the pre-tribulation rapture do not want to believe that they will be murdered for their allegiance to Jesus at the end of age. Instead, they want to believe that they will fly away. Because many of them so adamantly wish to escape persecution, some passages that refer to their impending martyrdom are ignored on the assumption that Jesus is not referring to the church, but rather He is referring to the Jews. When Jesus’ disciples ask Him about the end of age and His return, His response is quite clear.

As [Jesus] was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" And Jesus answered and said to them, "See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will mislead many. You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.” (Matthew 24:3-10, NASB)

Jesus is talking to His disciples, but He is referring to His return at the end of age, so His message is directed towards a people who will enter or endure the end of age. However, is Jesus directing this message to Christians or Jews? The word “Christian” literally means, “slave to Christ.” Christians are known by the name because of their loyalty to Jesus. Jews, however, by customs and culture, do not wish to be loyal to Jesus. If they truly believed that Jesus was their messiah, they too would be Christians, that is, they would be loyal to Jesus. Being a Christian means being loyal to Jesus, which in turn means being a member of the body of Christ, which in turn means belonging to the church, that is, the assembly of people who are loyal to Jesus. And Matthew 24 should reveal to us whether or not those who endure the tribulation are loyal to Jesus or not.

In Matthew 24, Jesus tells us that a series of events have to occur before He returns. First, He warns us that there will be many false messiahs running around. Then there will be an increase in aggression and the nations will war with one another. During this time, there will be an increase in famines and earthquakes. And just after these things, we will be put to death because of Jesus’ name. In the process, many people – on account of not wanting to be hated and killed – will fall away and forsake Jesus.

How can this message refer specifically to Jews if Jesus is telling us that we will be hated and killed because of His name? The Jewish culture refuses to believe that Jesus is the messiah. Jews — according to their contemporary religious beliefs — are not loyal to Jesus, so how can they possibly be hated and killed on account of His name? How can they fall away from Jesus if they were never loyal to Jesus to begin with?

According to Matthew 24, the great falling away — when many Christians will reject Jesus and forsake Him — occurs before the Antichrist (i.e. the abomination of desolation) stands in the holy place, that is, the Temple Mount in the city of Jerusalem.

“Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains.” (Matthew 24:15, NASB)

Just because Jesus refers to people living in Judea doesn't mean that He is referring to Jews. Even today there are people living in Judea who are loyal to Jesus. After the Antichrist stands on the Temple Mount and reigns over the earth for a time, Jesus is seen returning in the clouds to gather His elect from the farthest end of earth to the farthest end of heaven.

“And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.” (Matthew 24:30-31, NASB)
“Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect form the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven.” (Mark 13:26-27, NASB)
“Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawn near.” (Luke 21:27-28, NASB)

Not so surprisingly, the timeline in Matthew 24 mirrors Paul’s messages about the rapture. In Matthew 24, the falling away (i.e. apostasy) is mentioned, then the Antichrist (i.e. the abomination of desolation, the man of lawlessness) appears and takes his seat in the holy place at the Temple Mount, and then Jesus is seen in the clouds of the air with the sound of a trumpet as the elect who reside in heaven or remain on the earth are gathered together.

Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4, NASB)
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, NASB)

These two passages are quite perfectly aligned to Matthew 24. Even more, when Paul describes the gathering of this elect people, he mentions a few extra details. Paul refers to Jesus’ resurrection when he mentions gathering together with Him. Paul also mentions that those who had died will rise (i.e. be resurrected) before those who are alive and remain are caught up with them in the clouds to meet with Jesus in the air. There is a resurrection occurring at this moment.

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. (1 Corinthians 15:20-25, NASB)

At the return of Jesus, when He is seen coming in the clouds, there will be a resurrection. Some of the people who are resurrected at this time will have already died (i.e. "fallen asleep"), and the others who are resurrected will have still been alive on the earth.

Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:50-53, NASB)

When Paul is discussing people who are alive on the earth getting caught up to be with Jesus in the air, if he is referring to the time of Jesus’ return near the end of the tribulation, then those who had “fallen asleep in Jesus” would be those who were murdered for their allegiance to Jesus during the tribulation, and those who “are alive and remain” had lived through the tribulation and survived the point in time when the Antichrist was forcing all of mankind to receive the mark of the beast. Both of these groups would be resurrected and gathered together to meet Jesus in the clouds at His return so that they might reign with Jesus for one thousand years.

Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. (Revelation 20:4-5, NASB)

Reading the bible isn’t rocket science, and the scripture doesn’t require semantic gymnastics and contorted interpretations to understand what's going to happen. Every passage mentioned above refers to the return of Jesus Christ, and the time markers are self-evident. There are going to be many false messiahs. Then there will be heightened aggression and global war. Famines and earthquakes will increase, and then there will arise a great persecution against God’s children who are loyal to Jesus. Many will fall away and reject Jesus. Afterward, the Antichrist will arise and rule from the Temple Mount. He will force everyone on the earth to place a mark on his or her hands and foreheads. After he reigns for a time, those who had died because of their loyalty to Jesus will be resurrected to meet with Jesus in the air. Those who belong to God, who remain on the earth, and who did not take the mark will also meet with Jesus in the air. This rapture takes place at the first resurrection. Afterward, Jesus will return to the earth on the clouds and they will return with him and they will reign for one thousand years on the earth.

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