Christ Our Hope

The Lord’s imminent return for His Church provides hope, comfort, and encouragement for the believer. Therefore, the Bible instructs the Church, consisting of all true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, to watch and wait for His return. Our hope is not in politics, science, medicine, technology, education, or in reforming this world. Instead, Christ is our hope. This hope, properly held in our hearts, motivates us to serve, labor, and witness for our Lord (1 Thess. 5:6-7). The expectation of His return is an incentive for holy living (1 John 3:2-3). Moreover, knowledge of our reunion with those who have died “in the Lord” is a source of great comfort (1 Thess. 4:13-18).

The Millennial Kingdom

Before we examine the rapture – the Lord’s return in the air for His Church – we will consider three major views of His later coming to earth to establish His kingdom. From the Latin meaning one-thousand, these views all use the word “millennial”:

1) The amillennial view teaches that there is no literal kingdom and that there is no future for Israel as a nation. A general judgment will occur after the Lord’s return to earth. It relies heavily on the “spiritualizing” method of interpreting Scripture.

2) The postmillennial view teaches that the Lord comes after the kingdom is brought in. The millennium is ushered in by the preaching of the gospel or by “social/political reform.” This view has been revived today under the title of “Christian Reconstructionism.”

3) The premillennial view teaches that the Lord comes before a 1,000-year reign. It proclaims a literal 1000-year kingdom reign on earth by the Lord Jesus Christ who comes in power and glory to set up His kingdom (see Rev. 20:1-7). Promises to the nation of Israel will be literally fulfilled.

Why the divergence of views? One’s approach to interpreting the Bible determines one’s eschatology, the doctrine of last things. The premillennial view is arrived at by the application of a consistent literal interpretation of Scripture (Dan. 2:35, 45; Isa. 7:14; 11:6-8). While most who believe that the Bible is God’s Word interpret the Bible literally, many abandon this approach when interpreting yet to be fulfilled prophecy. For example, Luke 1:31-32a says, “And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Highest.”

All three views would agree that this was literally fulfilled at the first coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Where they differ is on the portion following it, “and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:32b-33). One either spiritualizes this part, that is ascribe to it some other meaning than what it clearly says, or consistently and literally interprets the entire portion. Comparing Scripture with Scripture, the premillennial view of Christ’s return to earth is the correct eschatological interpretation.

The Rapture

When will this great event occur? The Lord declares: “but of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father” (Mark 13:32). Therefore, Scripture exhorts all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ to continually “wait for his Son from heaven” (1 Thess. 1:10). With earnest and eager anticipation, we should look for Him, watching not for an event but for our Savior. Philippians 3:20 says, “For our conversation [citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

The return of the Lord Jesus to the air for His Church is the next event on God’s prophetic timetable. The believers who have “died in the Lord” will be resurrected and caught up to meet Him in the air (John 14:1-3; 1 Thess. 4:13-18). Immediately afterward, He will “catch up” (rapture) living believers to the air, transforming their bodies, and equipping them to live in heaven.

Premillennial Bible students differ on whether the Church will go through all or part of the future Tribulation, also known as Daniel’s 70th week (Dan. 9:24-27). Following are four biblical reasons why Christ will remove the Church before the Tribulation:

  1. The Tribulation Pertains to Israel
    The Tribulation is a time designed specifically for the nation of Israel. While there will be an effect on Gentile nations, the following verses reference “Jacob,” “Israel,” and “thy people.” They refer to the Jewish nation alone; the Tribulation does not involve the Church:

“And these are the words that the LORD spake concerning Israel and concerning Judah” (Jer. 30:4) “Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it” (Jer. 30:7).

“Therefore, fear thou not, O my servant Jacob, saith the LORD; neither be dismayed, O Israel: for, lo, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and shall be in rest, and be quiet, and none shall make him afraid.” (Jer. 30:10; see the entire context of Jer. 30:4-11; Dan. 9:24-27; Matt.24:15-24).

  1. The Mystery of the Church
    The Church was a mystery: “Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed…that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel…And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God” (Eph. 3:5-6, 9).

Christ’s body, the Church did not exist in the Old Testament. It could not come into existence until the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, and the sending of the Holy Spirit to form His body. Though the Church was in the eternal plan of God, it was not revealed and could not be known until the Lord made it known by divine revelation. The Church is a New Testament entity and is not the subject of Old Testament prophecy while the Tribulation is a subject of Old Testament prophecy (Dan. 9:24-27).

Initiated with the birth of the Church (Acts 2), the Church Age is a parenthesis or period of time not foretold in the Old Testament. The completion and rapture of the Church will close out this era. When the Church Age ends, God’s dealings with His Old Testament people Israel will resume.

  1. The Tribulation Passages in Revelation
    The Church is not mentioned from Revelation 4:2 until chapter 19. There are “saints,” but these are not to be confused with the saints of the Church age.
  2. The Teaching of the New Testament
    The plain reading of Revelation 3:10 and a comparison of 1 Thessalonians 5:9 with Revelation 6:17 reveal that the Church has not been appointed to experience the time of God’s wrath upon the world. First Thessalonians 1:9-10 expresses the hope and confidence of the Church: “to wait for his Son from heaven…even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.”

Imminency means “any moment.” The doctrine of His imminent return stresses that the timing of His arrival is uncertain and that He may come at any moment. There are no intervening signs or prophesied events that need to be fulfilled before the Rapture could occur. This produces in the believer a constant state of expectancy and incentive for service and holy living.

In view of His imminent return, may we be reminded of His promise in the closing words of Scripture, “He which testifieth these things saith, surely, I come quickly” (Rev. 22:20). May our hearts respond as did John’s: “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”