But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.– 1Corinthians 15:20-24.
And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God. – Revelation 14:1-5.
I owe this blog to any who’ve ever followed me, and to whoever may have paid enough attention to any positional changes I’ve undergone in recent years. Nevertheless, I’ve always been true to what God has shown me, or- at least my limited understanding of it. I’m faithful to note any of these theological changes, and there’s been many, if and when they occur.
A History of My Views
Well, a doctrine that’s been central to my Christian experience, from the earliest days (post-Catholic), has concerned the rapture of the Church. Without going into it in too much detail, my earliest beliefs, being introduced to Protestant/Pentecostal Christianity through a peculiar Bible study group centered around the personality of the Reverend Harlo White. His take on Biblical eschatology was to allegorize or spiritualize everything. In short, the ‘rapture’ of the Church was to be a spiritual or mystical event where the sons of God would manifest, and was not to be a literal catching up into the clouds at all. In fact, we used to make fun of those who believed in a literal rapture (I was about 13-14 years of age at this time). I remember drawing people helplessly holding onto stop signs on their way up, and so forth.
In time, a godly woman who was very instrumental in my life, especially during my years as a troubled youth, took me to a more mainstream church, where they believed in a literal rapture of the Church. When presented with the doctrine given as a surface teaching from scripture, I believed it in it’s literal sense. One day Christ was to literally return in the clouds, and catch away His beloved Church into the air (1Thess 4:13-18).
The Tribulation Period Explained
So, for the next several years (upwards of a decade), I more and more studied this teaching and Biblical eschatology in general, and concluded that there would be a pre-tribulation rapture of the Church. This was as opposed to other positions out there, such as mid-trib, or post-trib rapture positions, as well as a pre-wrath position that came out in the early ’90’s. These various positions were all in relation to the understanding one had of the term the tribulation period which covers the time known as Daniel’s 70th week as discussed in Daniel 9:24-27. The sum of 70 weeks of years (70 x 7 = 490 years) was determined to fulfill every prophecy concerning Israel. However, the 70th week was suspended to account for the times of the Gentiles (Lk 21:24; Rom 11:25), or the 2000 years for the mystery of the Church (Rom 11:25; Eph 3:2-9) occurring in between the 69th and the 70th weeks. For further information and a chronological breakdown of these 70 weeks of years, you may refer to my blog God’s Timeline, under point 7 and sub-point 5. It’s this final 7 year period that is commonly referred to as the ‘Tribulation Period’, though the phrase itself as describing the entirety of Daniel’s 70th week is not found in scripture. However, the final half of that week, 3.5 years, is referred to in the Bible as the Great Tribulation.
The Partial Rapture Theory Explained
The partial rapture theory, otherwise known as the first fruits rapture of the Church is something that I came to embrace as an acceptable doctrine for about 20 years, from 1994 on. I first encountered this teaching through the writings of one of my favorite spiritual mentors, Watchman Nee.
As the teaching goes, when Christ returns it will be to rapture the Church in stages, taking only the most mature of believers first, hence the ‘first fruits rapture’. These first fruit believers are called elsewhere the 144,000 (Rev 14), and may be seen as typified in Lev 23:1-22 (cp. Rev 14:1-16).
The basic structure of the ‘Tribulation Period’ is adhered to, but instead of a pre-trib rapture, there’s a taking up of the first fruit believers unto God just before the 70th week begins. Then at mid-point, a kind of mid-trib rapture of the general Church takes place. After which post-trib, the gleanings of the land are taken up, as described in Lev 23:22; Mt 24:31.
My thinking was:
1. That the clearest scriptures promising a pre-trib rapture had set conditions attached to them: that one had to watch and pray always to be counted worthy to escape all the things that were prophesied to come to pass (Lk 21:36); and that because they had kept the word of His patience they, too, will be kept from the hour of global trial that is coming.
2. It seemed that a pre-trib rapture was escapist, as there are several believers who’ve suffered horrible trials without being rescued from it- though this doesn’t account for the fact that one generation of believers will be rescued from the wrath to come.
3. It made sense that many believers who don’t even seem to care for spiritual things, will be left behind.
4. It fit other scriptural scenarios, as I understood them at the time: the man-child of Rev 12 being the first fruits, and the woman (who’s also Israel) being the main Church awaiting her general harvest, etc.
My Return to a Pretribulation Rapture Viewpoint
So, twenty years later (around 2014), what changed my mind to return to my former pre-trib position? I began to consider these discrepancies concerning partial rapture doctrine:
* It promotes the rapture as a reward for works or good behavior. While it is generally believed that one is saved by grace through faith, why would that change concerning the resurrection/rapture of the Church?
This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? – Ga 3:2-3.
* It divides the Church, the Body of Christ. While most Evangelicals distinguish between true believers and those who are only professing believers, this doctrine divides up the Body of Christ into two camps: the saved masses and those who are over comers, special enough to merit the first fruits rapture. But as John F. Walvoord said, “It is inconceivable if the church is formed by grace that it should be divided by works.” And regarding this supposed division of Christ’s body, it is written,
Is Christ divided? – 1Cor 1:13;
For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. – 12:12-13;
But now are they many members, yet but one body. – 12:20;
There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. – Eph 4:4-7.
* This doctrine promotes elitism in the Church. To suppose that one is a superior Christian to others due to attaining a level of faith others don’t have, or an immaculate degree of behavior above other believers giving them an exclusive express pass to ‘get out of here’ sooner than their more weaker brethren is just not the spirit or nature of the Gospel.
Yes, there are degrees of growth and levels of maturity, but rather than lording this over our fellow believers, our brothers and sisters in the faith, what is our proper spirit to be?
I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive. – Acts 20:35.
Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. – 1Thess 5:14.
…but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. – Lk 22:26b
Shall indeed only the mature believers go up in the rapture leaving behind the less mature? Grant it, professing believers, who are not so in heart (and a tree is known by it’s fruit) will be left behind- and there will be many! However, of those who truly believe, what does scripture say?
Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him [Rev 22:12], and his work before him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. – Isa 40:10-11.
According to the text above, when YHVH comes, having His reward with Him, He shall gather the lambs, carry them, and shall gently lead those that are with the spiritually young. It does not say that He’s only to take those who are leaders (the more mature), and leave behind the young- but He will lead those who are with young, meaning that the young too are with them!
The Prayerful Watchfulness and Readiness Enjoined to the Church
The main arguments for a partial or selective rapture of the Church are the multiple texts which enjoin to the Church a watchfulness, an incessant prayer and a readiness which, if not adhered to, by implication entail a missing of the rapture, or additionally- being on the wrong side of the Millennial reign of Christ (see Mt 24:40–51; 25:13; Mk 13:33–37; Lk 20:34–36; 21:36; Phil 3:10–12; 1 Thess 5:6; 2 Tim 4:8; Tit 2:13; Heb 9:24–28). Now some who oppose the partial rapture theory will try and explain these texts as being referring, not to the rapture itself, but to the Second Advent, when Christ descends to the earth with His armies to set up the Millennial Reign. However, the Lord’s parousia, that is His presence (usually translated as His ‘coming’) encompasses the whole 7 year time frame, which includes the pre-tribulation rapture, the tribulation itself, and the Second Advent at the end. Understanding this is so important. Primarily, however, watchfulness is enjoined to the Church herself (as referenced above). And since the Church will be returning with Christ during His Second Advent (Rev 19:11-14; Jude 14-15), these texts are not in reference to that event, but to the rapture preceding it.
Regardless, what is then meant given that the prerequisite for being resurrected along with the Church is not based on works nor performance, but rather on faith? What we then see in those passages above is the outworking of faith. In other words, performing works in order to perfect yourself, or become worthy as a result for the inclusion in a special rapture is based in religious pride, and not in humility, which makes one a recipient of grace (Jas 4:6). What is it to be watchful but to believe? If I truly believed that my friend was coming to take me to an exciting party, I would be waiting with a certain degree of anticipation. If I didn’t believe, I would just forget about it, and go about my business. Now, even if I do believe, I will carry on (for the time may be later on that evening) with my business, but at the same time I will have a degree of anticipation, and will make sure I’m ready for when my friend comes to pick me up. Watchfulness, readiness, and wakefulness are enjoined to us therefore, not as a work to earn our resurrection, but as an outworking of that faith we already possess inwardly. For there are many who may or may no longer profess to be Christians, but have fallen asleep in terms of faith- that is to say, they’ve backslidden to again join the world, living for themselves, having forgotten about Christ. This is not a matter of whether one has religion, or even whether they go to church, call themselves a Christian or not, but do they- or do they not believe? Again, does their level of belief go down deep enough to change their lives? Or is it all mental assent. I may mentally assent to the existence of God, or of the tenets of the Christian faith- but as was said,
Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. – Jas 2:19
Having disproved the partial rapture theory, space does not permit me to go into all the reasons why a pre-tribulation rapture is more agreeable to me, other than to say, such a global shock to the world makes sense in lieu of all the other prophecies surrounding last day scenarios.
The Deeper Meaning of the First Fruits Believers, and their Rapture
So on to what is meant in these texts which I misunderstood for so long! What is meant by Christ the first fruits, and by what appears to be a secret rapture enjoyed by only a select few (144,000)?
First, the resurrection of all are pronounced in the text by the apostle Paul, but given in a very specific order:
1. Christ, the first fruits;
2. They that are Christ’s at His coming [Gk. parousia];
3. They after the Millennial reign of Christ- the Great White Throne Judgment.
My mistake was that I included the first fruits rapture, which was supposed to take place sometime pre-tribulation, in the first wave. Then, they that were His at ‘His coming’ sometime mid-trib. Then, whoever was left over at the Second Advent post-tribulation.
However, Paul specifically identifies Christ Himself as the First Fruits, and His resurrection as fulfilling that. But, the term ‘first fruits’ is plural- and we see many of the Old Testament saints rising with Him on that resurrection morning (Mt 27:52-53). But is that all? We see in Revelations another class, 144,000 (not necessarily the same as in ch.7) who are here also called the first fruits unto God– redeemed from the earth, that is to say, raptured. Perhaps one can see how a doctrine of a partial rapture could then develop, as we can differentiate between the first fruits and they that are Christ’s at His parousia. But, is that what’s going on?
Let’s consider the apostle Paul, and how he viewed these things. He taught that in Christ’s death and resurrection, we were all included. He taught that we not only rose with Him, but that we ascended and were even seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Rom 6:3-5, 11; Eph 2:4-7; 5:14; see also Jn 11:25-26). And the whole ‘born again’ thing as taught by the apostles Peter and John, was accomplished upon all, not as some transaction achieved by us in our personal histories, but rather when Christ rose again from the dead (1Pet 1:3, 23; Jn 3:3-8). Likewise our resurrection is a fait accompli in Christ’s resurrection. And yet, Paul taught that he was aiming for a resurrection yet to come, that he didn’t consider himself as having attained unto it (Phil 3:10-14). Again, he warned against the teaching of Hymenaeus and Philetus, who taught that the resurrection had already passed (2Tim 2:16-18). So which is it?
Well, Paul approached the resurrection on two different tracks simultaneously: he considered himself as having already risen with Christ in His resurrection; and he also had the blessed hope of the resurrection to come, which he still saw in a futurist sense. The apostle John’s views were very similar, that his inclusion in Christ’s resurrection (being thus born again) is a vital focal point for Christian maturity and heightened states of consciousness, while at the same time was a thing to occur at the Lord’s parousia (1Jn 3:9; 5:1, 4, 18 and 1Jn 3:1-3).
It is in this sense that we consider the rapture of first fruits, not as the futurist second coming (parousia), but of that which was accomplished in Christ’s resurrection- Christ the first fruits. The apostle James gives us a clear hint of this when he wrote:
Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. -Jas 1:18.
Again, how were we begotten? In Christ’s rising from the dead, as Peter taught (1Pet 1:3). Our being the first fruits is directly related to having been born again in Christ’s rising from the dead. Christ the first fruits is really then the key to understanding our position on Mt. Zion in Rev 14:1-5, not as some high and mighty state we have to strive to attain if we’re super Christians. No. That state is our’s in Christ. Are all aware or grow up into that? No. Just as in the fact that all are born again through Christ’s resurrection, but not all believe- hence, the fact remains dormant, unknown, and hidden. So it is that not all believers believe unto the full realization of their sonship, of their guileless and sinless perfection. Though, this is not an elitism, where the strong demean the weak- No. This is rather one’s rightful place in Christ, to whomsoever will.
In this study, we’re considering these terms as synonymous: being begotten, the resurrection and the rapture. But to fully grasp what is being said, we consider Christ Himself as the Resurrection and the Life (Jn 11:25-26).
The first fruits ‘rapture’ or resurrection occurred in Christ’s rising from the dead. In fact, He is the first fruits. We partake when we come to believe and know who we are in Christ, particularly in dying on the cross in Him, and rising from the dead in Him. This is a ‘rapture’ in the sense that we’ve been raised from the death-status we had in our sins prior to our conversion. We’ve entered into (having already been included in) Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension into the heavenlies. So, our rapture occurred two thousand years ago- and yet this is not mere amillennial symbolism, but also futurist in that there is a [bodily] resurrection yet to come, when Christ appears at His parousia. Thus we see one resurrection following the other- Christ the first fruits, and then they that are His at His coming. We who believe partake of both, the first inwardly- and the second outwardly when He returns.
While we await His return eagerly with eyes affixed toward the Eastern Sky, our hearts burn within us already, being made aflame with that resurrection already accomplished when we were born anew as He emerged from that tomb in Christ. Just as the 144,000 enjoy their being redeemed from among men, standing with the Lamb on Mt. Zion- prior to the general harvest (cp. Rev 14:1-5 and v.v.14-16), so also we enjoy now our glorious translation into Paradise in Christ, long prior to our bodies being gloriously translated at His coming.
Even so, Come, Lord Jesus.Invite Leon to Speak [/RegUserOnly]