Lately I am meeting some new friends by email who are interested in discussing the rapture of the church in more detail. The vast majority of the people in the world are disinterested in all this (to say the least), reflecting the fact that Jesus Christ is the most hated man who every lived.
Brenda Peterson has written a light-hearted book, "I Want to be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth." As a girl she attended a Southern Baptist evangelical church where she "accepted Jesus Christ as her personal Savior," and where she learned a lot of fine old hymns, whose titles make convenient chapter headings in her book. She has an obvious love of nature and for greener living, but further thoughts about the real, living God soon fade from consideration as one gets into her book.
At times, I, too, would like to escape from the ferenetic stressed-out life of the city, but then I am instantly reminded that nature is broken too, not just us people who live here on God's green earth.
"...if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors--not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body." (Romans 8:10-23)Just a few years ago, it seemed to me that many churches oversimplified the gospel message. Jesus Christ, alive from the dead, does indeed offer himself to us as Savior, Lord, Friend and Lover. His ability to offer Himself to us so generously, so freely, is based on his own voluntary death by crucifixion, for each one of us. "...He Himself is the propitiation (Greek: hilasterion, http://www.raystedman.org/new-testament/romans/but-now), for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world." (1 John 2:2) Ray Stedman explains that the issue of all human sin, for all time, has been paid for in full by Jesus Christ the Son of God,
Now, why does John say, "he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world?" Why does he put that in? Obviously he is drawing a contrast between Christians and non-Christians. He is reminding us that when the Lord Jesus died upon the cross 1900 years ago, he not only paid the debt of our sins, he not only took our guilt, as Christians, but he took the guilt of the whole world. He paid the price for every man. There is no man who will be kept away from God because of his sins, if he accepts the work of Christ on his behalf. Sin can never separate an individual from God, because of the cross of Christ. No matter how bad the sins, no matter how extreme it may be, or how long continued, sin can never separate anybody, anywhere, in any time, or any age, from the heart of God, if the work of the cross be received. That is the extent of the expiation mentioned here. But why does he remind us of that in this context? The answer is: It is to help us see ourselves.The kind and quality of the boundless love Jesus offers us demands a wholehearted response from us. True, we have nothing to offer Him but ourselves, but that is exactly what He is asking from us. Our Lord is also offering each of us a place in his kingdom, and a place of intimacy with Him as well--as indicated by the symbols of heavenly Bridegroom courting and becoming one with his gentile, virgin Bride. (Never mind that the bride-to-be may have previously been a spiritual adulteress, or worse--the forgiveness package offered covers any and all kinds of sin. Only sinners need apply).
Why is it that all the world is not reconciled to God? Why is it that these others, whose sins have been already settled for on the cross, are living in estrangement and hostility to the God who loves them and who seeks after them? Why is it that men are still defying God, and blaspheming God, and turning and running from him, and experiencing the death, darkness, and degradation that comes from not knowing? You know the answer: Because they will not believe him. They will not accept his forgiveness. He has forgiven them, but they have never forgiven him. As Paul puts it in Second Corinthians 5, "We are ambassadors for Christ, for God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. Therefore, we beseech men, be ye reconciled to God," (2 Corinthians 5:20). We do not have to say to God, "be reconciled to men"; we are saying to men, "be ye reconciled to God," (2 Corinthians 5:20b KJV).
Now, that is the very same reason why we Christians are not enjoying the full flow of the Spirit of power, life, love, and wisdom, in our experience. It is all available to us, but we will not receive it. That is what John means. Like the world, we are turning our back on it. We are saying to God, "I'm not interested in cleansing because, you see, I really don't need it. After all, this is not a sin, it's simply a weakness, just an inherited tendency, something I got from my family. I can't help it." That kind of thing is cutting the ground out from under the whole redemptive work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Though his power is all-available, it is not experienced because of that. Now let us bow before him. In a moment of quietness before God, let us confess this terrible tendency that each of us has unquestionably experienced, to rationalize sin, to excuse it, justify it, call it something else, doll it up, sprinkle perfume on it and make it look better, instead of calling it exactly what it is. Christ has found a way below, around, and above our circumstances. He can reach us despite the pressures; it is just that we do not want it. (http://www.raystedman.org/new-testament/1-john/the-man-who-rationalizes-sin).
In spite of much pleading by God, and much love poured out on our generation, history has shown that only a small number of people are accepting the courtship offer God still offers mankind. The time period Jesus has been calling a Bride to Himself has now been about 2000 years. Many believed in Jesus after the Creation of the world but before the Flood of Noah. Most of the people of Israel have not as yet responded to the calling of their Messiah.
The offer of Jesus -- in the role of a Bridegroom seeking a Bride -- is not the whole story of God's love for the world. It is but one, one facet. Evangelism of the whole world will pick up again after the rapture of the church--with great power and conviction, but many of these last-minute converts will pay by experiencing their own immediate martyrdom. Trying to stay alive on earth for even a short time after the Rapture will involve a series of horrific, cascading nightmares whose primary purpose is do deal with layers of human evil and corruption which must be purged away before the rebuilding of earth can begin.
As noted by Paul in Romans 8, nature ("the creation") is fatally broken and running down and must be completely remade. Evil men who insist on running their lives by their own selfish rules must be dealt with by force; justice must be dispensed, the "unrighteous" of earth will find themselves soon evicted. They have been living on borrowed time and borrowed land. The Landlord wants His property back. Whole (holy) men and women need to will be housed in a holy place, in an all new-creation. Sin is terribly contagious and must be eradicated one step at a time, until we come to a time of a "new heavens and new earth." What will survive the coming great purges are the deeds God has done though His people.
In chapter after chapter, whole books of the Bible tell us what the future of life on earth will be like when Jesus Christ returns in power as Ruling King of all the nations (Psalm 2). We might wish for more detail, but there is actually plenty already written down for us by the ancients.
The big event called the "second coming" of Jesus is described in the New Testament by the use of the Greek words "parousia," and "epiphaneia." The first aspect of the return of Jesus, is popularly known as the rapture of the church. (See "Aspects of the Return of the Lord Jesus Christ," http://ldolphin.org/Return.html). After that event, history will move rapidly ahead to the visible appearing of Jesus Christ on the Mt. of Olives in Jerusalem. The Rapture may be largely unseen and unnoticed in the daily news but radical, major shifts in world, power will follow the rapture in short order. Bible buffs are quite busy tracking down the major shifts in the world one can see were foretold long ago in the Bible. We are already seeing a small foretaste of bad things to come down here on earth in recent months.
God surely grieves when men reject the gift He offers, yet for God the consent of a few to follow Him is apparently reward enough. Most of us know that the news media of our day do not usually report on those issues that are of major importance to God and His kingdom. Not many Christians may be leaving with us at the rapture, because many who say they are in the family of God, aren't. It is a wonderful topic to study and think about. The devil will soon cover up the exit from earth of that small band of "fundamentalists." Were they "merely" abducted by alien space ships? Probably it won't be all that big a deal to most of those who out to tidy by the gardens. As Ray Stedman noted above, unbelief is the biggest obstacle to our faith most all the time.
Back to the Rapture: All three Persons of the godhead are involved in the approaching and scheduled consummation of the 2000 year courtship story concerning the Lord Jesus Christ and his Bride, the true church. Like any good Jewish father, God the Father has carefully chosen each of us, and called us. He is taking the responsibility of preparing us to be THE Bride for His beloved son. We who are gentiles are being invited to marry into the Jewish family of Jesus. (But there are multitudes of Jews who are in the church as well). As a very rough guess I estimated that the true church (all believers in Christ since that Pentecost day which immediately followed the resurrection of Jesus), could easily be a billion people in number! Ten billion is a possibility.
Local churches, as described in the New Testament, are supposed to be families who take in the refugees of our fallen world. Imagine the diversity of persons in the finished church of Jesus Christ we are being invited into. The heavenly family of Jesus surely contains many children: orphans, throw-away kids, victims of abortion, war, disease. There will be old and wise folks in heaven and every age in between, all in different states of spiritual and emotional maturation (I would think). Part of growing up as humans is experiencing nurturing and receiving training and instruction in a family. Local churches are supposed to be doing as much of this as possible here and now, but I wonder how much healing-of-families goes hand in hand with the rapture?
The sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit (already mightily at work in all of us who know the Lord) is in making once derelict sinners into all-new godly men, woman and children. Jesus evidently looks forward to sharing a home with Him in the heavenly places (probably the orbiting City of New Jerusalem). At most weddings, the Bride is featured as the center of attraction. Although the Lord Jesus is the Most Honored One at this coming union with His Church, it should be obvious that every good wedding should involve a good match between Lover and Beloved, between Bride and Bridegroom. In this case the Holy Spirit (He is fully God in very respect) will surely know what wedding dowry is best suited for the virgin spouse of Jesus. Getting the Bride sanctified is a very tall order for which the Spirit of God has always been the Healer and the Giver of Life.
The Song of Solomon is a wonderful love study about a very plain peasant girl who receives a complete wedding endowment from the Spirit of God so that she arrives at her wedding day fully equipped to provide a wonderful match for a great King. Psalms 45 further hints at the union of the Lord and his church. See http://www.raystedman.org/daily-devotions/psalms/the-king-in-his-beauty, and "Love and Relationships, The Song of Solomon," http://ldolphin.org/relationships.html).
Ecosystems and infrastructure matter to man--one sees that in the way we were created in Genesis 1-2. I suppose heaven will have sanctuaries for shy persons, garden spaces, libraries, and plenty of comfort for each of us. Man was created last, after the rest of the created universe. God delights in variety, in gardens, in places for rest and meditation. Like C.S. Lewis, I hope heaven has room for our close animal companions from this life.
I think our immediate home after the Rapture is indeed the heavenly city of New Jerusalem, Revelation 21-22. The heavenly city seems to me to be a district in heaven, not the sum total of what the Third Heaven is). While we are waiting to go there, I hope some gifted artists and architects of our day might allow their sanctified imaginations to tell us what the City of God might be like? My earliest childhood thoughts of heaven hardly went further than thinking of fluffy clouds in an otherwise boring "place" free from sin, pain and sorrow. A few years ago while visiting Israel I found that was attractive to a simple, low-profile assignment in New Jerusalem, "For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God Than dwell in the tents of wickedness." (Psalm 84:10)
Knowing the one true God is about being in a very diverse family of men, women, boys and girls--all ages all backgrounds, all cultures, all callings. The Rapture is very much a family reunion where we are all on common ground. For some, God helps us find the right place in his cosmic family by sending us pain and grief. Hebrews 12 tells that all legitimate children of God are disciplined--even scourged. The list of those whom the father "scourges" includes Jesus. Getting us adjusted, and our brothers and sisters as well, may mean He must send us trials, tests and suffering. (I don't see heaven as a deserved reward for the righteous at all. I think it is the next big step God has for us to continue to enjoy being the objects of His love and grace. We each have a unique place in God's affections, but being a follower of Jesus is still a family matter.) The world around us could care less about everlasting happiness with Jesus, and this is very sad indeed. For now, there is still time to say "yes" to the healing love of Jesus. All who will may come.
"God is going to invade this earth in force. But what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream, and something else -- something it never entered your head to conceive -- comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us, and so terrible to others, that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature.Lambert Dolphin
"It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we have really chosen, whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back, to give us that chance. It will not last forever. We must take it or leave it." (C.S. Lewis)