Understanding The Rapture

Rock of Offence Commentary

We are now in "The Last Days". Christians who are watching are excited that the return of our Lord is near. All the Scriptural warnings and signs are lining up. Yet, in my excitement about how short the hour is I'm concerned about some things. First, there are many that are unfamiliar with endtime events. Second, we still have some old problems that have plagued the church for nearly 2000 years. The rapture represents the fulfillment of a promise God made to all those who trust in Christ--to redeem their physical bodies. Yet, many either lack knowledge or have incorrect knowledge about this aspect of our salvation. We also have some old enemies who are seeking to steal our joy about our soon departure to be with the Lord Jesus Christ. Today, it is a popular belief in some circles that the rapture (the departure of Christ's Church) is reserved for a few "chosen" Christians. This involves the old error of mixing Law and Grace--a battle that's been going on since the days of Saint Paul. This practice violates the principles of the Lord's Table (Holy Communion) and divides the body of Christ by perverting the Gospel of Grace into a works-related performance race where only a few "win the prize". While legalism is toxic to believers in Christ--those who teach it may still have much to say about the final days before the return of Christ. In this article we not only discuss the amazing characteristics of the rapture, but also seek to expose the false teaching of those who try to pervert it into a reward for Christian service and devotion.

In the study of the endtimes no topic is more divisive than the rapture of the Church. I've found that Christians hold many different beliefs concerning this future event. These beliefs include:

  • There is no such thing as a rapture for Christians

  • The rapture occurs before the 7 year Tribulation

  • The rapture occurs following the 7 year Tribulation

  • The rapture occurs halfway through the 7 year Tribulation

  • The rapture occurs before God's wrath is poured out

  • There are two or more raptures

  • My church doesn't discuss endtime events

These are the seven most common positions. If you've never heard these things before or you find them confusing you're not alone. Since the return of Jesus Christ is next on God's time table I would encourage any Christian today to study these things as soon as possible. I wouldn't want to be caught unaware during the most monumental event on God's agenda. Many ministers and pastors avoid this topic because of its complexity and the mystery surrounding it. Unfortunately, the return of Christ as described in the Bible is just too "far out" for many Christian's today. Some professing Christians consider themselves too "rational" to accept such things. Yet, our Lord doesn't accept this as an excuse. And, the basics aren't really that hard to understand. It's all the many well-meaning, yet misguided beliefs that make it confusing. Some fundamental truths about endtime events such as the rapture are covered by this article. Enoch, one of the first prophets in the Old Testament, spoke about the time in which we live...

"And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him." (Jude 1:14-15 KJV)

This prophecy is given more than 4 thousand years ago and speaks of the time when Jesus the Lord returns. What is about to happen in our lifetime is the focus of the whole Bible. Imagine being a Christian and knowing little or nothing about it!

Our discussion is not about comparing the seven most common beliefs about the rapture, but to show that agreement among Christians concerning this event is nearly impossible. Yet, it's a mistake to think that everyone is right. The Scripture gives the subject of the rapture (the departure of Christ's Church from the earth) a place of importance. I hold to a pre-tribulational belief. This means that the rapture occurs before the Tribulation period soon to engulf the earth. The Bible calls the Tribulation period, "The Wrath To Come". The "pre-trib" position is the only one that agrees with the entire body of prophetic Scripture and supports the Gospel of Grace (Saint Paul's gospel). Paul's gospel is the only authority for the church today. Yet, other gospels exist and are taught. It is crucial that we understand the tenants of the Grace Gospel because our confidence in what Jesus purchased for us on the cross is eternally tied to it. As we shall see there are some in the "church" that zealously and tirelessly work to undermine our confidence in God's grace because they believe in a "different" gospel. Some feel it is their religious duty to bring us into what Saint Paul called "bondage". Without a solid understanding of the Grace Gospel you can never really "know" if you're saved--and you will be at the mercy of those who pervert God's salvation by grace into a reward for Christian performance.

Thomas Ice, Executive Director of the Pre-Trib Research Center in Washington D.C. and Ed Hindson give us a brief description of "the rapture". . .

"The rapture is most clearly presented in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. In verse 17 the English phrase "caught up" translates the Greek word "harpázô," which means "to seize upon with force" or "to snatch up." Latin translators of the Bible used the word "rapere," the root of the English term "rapture." At the rapture living believers will be "caught up" in the air, translated into the clouds, in a moment of time."

"The rapture is characterized in the Bible as a "translation coming" (1 Cor. 15:51-52; 1 Thes. 4:15-17) in which Christ comes for His church. The second advent is Christ returning with His saints, descending from heaven to establish His earthly kingdom (Zech. 14:4-5; Mat. 24:27-31)."

Ed Hindson observes:

"The rapture (or "translation") of the church is often paralleled to the "raptures" of Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2: 12). In each case, the individual disappeared or was caught up into-heaven. At His ascension, our Lord Himself was "taken up" into heaven (Acts 1:9). The biblical description of the rapture involves both the resurrection of deceased believers and the translation of living believers into the air to meet the Lord (1 Thess. 4:16-17; 1 Cor. 15:51 52)."

"Differences between the two events are harmonized naturally by the pre-trib position, while other views are not able to account comfortably for such distinctions."

The Translation And Rapture

The translation and rapture is the completion of our salvation. This fact makes our understanding of these events vitally important. Scripture calls it, "the redemption of our body". Up to now, nobody except for the Lord Jesus Christ has experienced the full benefit of redemption. Jesus is "the firstborn from the dead" (Col. 1:18). Redemption comes from the word "redeem", which means to "buy back". That's the core meaning of what Jesus did on the cross--He bought us (purchased us--redeemed us) using his own blood (1 Peter 1:18-19, 1 Cor. 6:20). This makes our redemption a total result of the price that Jesus Christ paid. Our redemption does not rest in any way upon our performance. We didn't (and couldn't) redeem ourselves either in full or in part. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, is the only one who possessed the attributes that qualified Him to be our redeemer. Our redemption (including its fulfillment at the rapture) is paid for with "divine currency".

"For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body." (Rom. 8:22-23 KJV)

When speaking about the events that would mark the end of the age, Jesus tells us more about our redemption...

"And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh." (Luke 21:28 KJV)

It's clear that our redemption, which is not complete now--will be completed at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So, what happens when our bodies are redeemed? Paul explains this divine act...

"Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" (1 Cor. 15:51-55 KJV)

This is a future supernatural event where our mortal body is transformed (translated) into an immortal body. This translation gives us the same kind of body that the Lord Jesus Christ now possesses. This new body will never get sick or die like the old one. It's a body that is not subject to the physical laws of the earth.

Saint Paul gives us more information about the redemption of our bodies:

"For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words." (1Thes 4:16-18 KJV)

This event is vastly different than the one described in the book of Revelation when Jesus returns to set up his millennial kingdom. They are two different "happenings" separated by a period of time. At the rapture, Jesus descends from heaven and calls up all that have died in Christ (physically dead Christians). Next, those Christians who are alive and remain are caught up. The translation must take place previous to this "catching up" because Paul tells us that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God". That means our flesh and blood bodies are changed or "translated" into immortal bodies that can inherit God's kingdom. Paul's description of the translation in 1 Cor. 15:51-53 must be read along with 1 Thes. 4:16-18 in order to get the whole picture.

The Rapture--God's Promise Fulfilled

Some of us fail to realize that we don't receive our entire salvation/redemption at the time we believe on Christ. The moment we place faith in Christ God seals us with the Holy Spirit, which is our "down payment" or "guarantee" that our full redemption will be received in the future. It is God's promise to us and rests entirely on his faithfulness to accomplish that which He promised. This full redemption/salvation is "the redemption of our bodies" (the receiving of immortality) and our departure (rapture) from the earth to be forever with the Lord (1 Thess. 4:16-18). Our translation and rapture are the two final stages of our redemption by grace through faith in Christ alone. Therefore, these divine acts can never be separated from redemption and can never be attributed as "a reward for Christian service".

"In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest (guarantee) of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory." (Eph. 1:11-14 KJV)

For this reason making the rapture a "reward for Christian service" is not only a false teaching, but also a direct attack on the Gospel of Christ. It is a grievous sin against God's Spirit of Grace.

Modern Day Judaizers

When studying endtime events (primarily the rapture of the Church) we should know that they are firmly rooted in God's salvation (known in the New Testament as "the free gift"). By subtly redefining the fundamentals of salvation you can create some pretty frightening doctrine concerning the end of the age. The rapture of the Church is called, "the believer's blessed hope". Yet, some teachers have made our "blessed hope" into our worst nightmare! The rapture is the completion of our salvation. That's why I spend so much time repeating the primary requirements for our salvation. If you understand the fundamentals of the Grace Gospel then some of the popular false teaching about the rapture is easily recognized. As we've said repeatedly in this article, the Church is currently under the authority of grace. Yet, a war rages between the Grace Gospel and another popular gospel. This war has continued for more than 1900 years and is no closer to a resolution. The problem is that both these gospels require "faith in Christ" as a prerequisite for salvation and claim "God's grace", as it's primary characteristic. That means they look and sound similar. One of these gospels mix faith in Christ and the principles of the Mosaic Law together--meaning that it's not the Grace Gospel regardless of what its supporters say.

Sound confusing? If you think so you're not alone. It caused havoc among the Gentile churches that Saint Paul cared for and it does the same today. A common accusation leveled against Saint Paul's Grace Gospel is that it teaches "a license to sin". Legalists use this term to derail our liberty in Christ in order to bring us into bondage to the law once again. So far, I'm unaware of this so-called "sin license". Saint Paul taught that if we follow Christ we should depart from iniquity (2 Tim 2:19). Yet, grace deals with sin far differently than the way the Mosaic Law deals with it--and that's one of the problems. Those who live by the law (or a grace/law mixture) have an unbiblical preoccupation with the subject of sin. Grace deals with the sin problem after salvation is received and it's freely and eternally remitted as the result of Christ's cleansing blood (Rom. 3:24, Acts 10:43, 1 Peter 1:18-19). Legalists have a big problem with how our Heavenly Father freely bestows our salvation and forgiveness. They don't like the free part because they're blinded by the Mosaic Law. Those in the "counterfeit grace" group (or legalists as I call them) routinely demand that all sin must be confessed and repented of before salvation can be received. Yet, Paul never taught this as a requirement for salvation. When you think about it, this is a self-defeating requirement. If you fail to remember (and repent of) every sin you've committed during your life--God may not save you. And remember that sin is sin. Just because a sin is small and insignificant doesn't mean that you can ignore it. If that's not bad enough--you must continually confess and repent of every sin after you're saved or your salvation is in question (I've actually had this said to me). In other words...your salvation depends on your efforts--and maintaining your salvation also depends on your efforts. When you consider "sins of commission" and "sins of omission"--the Christian life (under the legalists) is reduced to one big preoccupation with sin. They're always in fear that they haven't repented enough (they call it "cleaning up their life"), or that they missed something that God will disqualify them for. This is the kind of spiritual bondage that Saint Paul constantly preached against. After considering this contradiction for over 30 years I tend to ask the question, "I thought Jesus died for our sins-sounds like the legalists don't believe this?" Saint Paul had some comments about this dangerous lifestyle and warned the Galatian church...

"And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you." (Gal 2:4-5 KJV)

Again, Paul warns the Philippian church of the same thing:

"Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision." (Phil 3:2 KJV)

These are hard words and do not foster a sense of love and unity. I say this because some of the greatest advocates of "love and unity" in the church are legalists. I wonder why? I'm all for love and unity unless it creates a false atmosphere that endangers the truth of the Gospel. I find Paul's use of the term "concision" the most disturbing. The word "concision" means mutilation. The word mutilation is exactly what legalism does to the human spirit. It's spiritual mutilation and bondage.

In Paul's day there existed a Christian sect that caused great trouble and confusion. These folks are known as "Judaizers". These were converted Pharisees (meaning they were believers in Christ) who demanded and taught that the Mosaic Law had to be included in salvation. They were skillfully trained to persuasively handle the Holy Scriptures. You can read about one such conflict with these Judaizers in Acts chapter 15 where their doctrine toward the Gentiles was soundly refuted. Saint Paul's gospel is known as "the Gospel of Grace". Salvation by faith in Christ alone--not by works--is the core of God's grace. As we shall see later, God designed the Grace Gospel for Paul's evangelistic ministry to the Gentile world (the Church today). It was a different gospel than the one proclaimed to Israel by the 12 apostles. The Judaizers came in after Paul left and taught the new Christians that the works of the Mosaic Law--and not just faith in Christ--was necessary for true salvation. They convincingly used Scripture to prove their teaching. This caught the inexperienced Gentile believers at a disadvantage and caused tremendous anxiety--like it does today. It also angered Saint Paul and caused him great anguish because it undermined his evangelistic efforts. Paul used harsh words to warn the Judaizers that they were perverting God's gospel message to the Gentiles (a serious offense). Paul writes the whole book of Galatians in an attempt to undo the damage these false teachers had done to the Galatian church. Paul warned the Judaizers...

"But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." (Gal 1:8-9 KJV)

Paul is warning that a curse exists on those who mix God's Grace with the works of the Mosaic Law. That is the context. Yet, it also includes any other gospel that was substituted for his. Paul's proclamation of the curse frightens me more than any other in the New Testament Scriptures. Yet, the Judaizers were not intimidated and continued their practices.

In the modern church the Judaizers are still with us and more popular than ever. They are not called Judaizers today, but go by other names. Yet, there are now at least two different variations of this dangerous mindset. We continue to have those who mix the Mosaic Law into the Gospel of Grace. However, there's another popular group who do not use the Mosaic Law, but establish their own system of religious laws (Jesus called them "commandments of men"--Matt. 15:7-9) in the place of the Law of Moses--or worse, mix these man-made religious laws together with the Mosaic Law (more likely). These folks are far more dangerous than the historic Judaizers--and they have good intentions, a love for God and great zeal for their beliefs. Yet, the result is the same. The Gospel of Grace is changed into a type of "performance race" based on works. Christian service and religious performance are subtle requirements for God's acceptance and favor. You might ask, "How does this fit in our discussion of endtime events?"

Some try to redefine the rapture into a reward for Christian service. This is gross error. Again, the rapture can NEVER be a reward for service. It's the fulfillment of God's promise to "redeem our bodies", which is included in the price Jesus paid at the cross. Jesus purchased our entire redemption-not just part of it. Among endtime students there is a false, but popular doctrine called "the partial-rapture" theory. It is also found in many different types and forms. This belief separates the rapture from salvation and quotes Scripture out of its context to prove its position. The common challenge from partial-rapture teachers is: "Being saved doesn't guarantee you a place in the rapture!" It's a contradiction of the worst kind, but is not viewed as such. The partial-rapture theory states that not all true believers will be in the rapture--only those who attain to certain levels of Christian service and/or commitment. The rest of the "nominal" Christians are doomed to be rejected from receiving their completed redemption (which was suppose to be paid for by Christ's blood!) until the end of the tribulation…if they survive. Can you see how insulting this must be to our Heavenly Father and how it diminishes the price Jesus paid at the cross? Yet, these modern day Judaizers refuse to give us a "benchmark" for the accepted level of service! Since our translation and rapture is the completion of the salvation that Christ purchased with his blood--the partial-rapture position is nothing short of a false gospel that carries the curse that Saint Paul pronounced on those who teach it. It removes the glory from Christ's finished work on the cross and makes it (in part) an act of human achievement. It's the same false teaching that Saint Paul opposed during his ministry to the Gentiles. It is also the same legalistic doctrine that Martin Luther properly refuted during the reformation period. Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Beware of modern day Judaizers! While faithfully searching the Scriptures concerning important endtime events--some hold to different variations of the partial-rapture theory and can cause great damage to the faith and confidence of believers in Christ. Yet, most of their work concerning endtime events is of great benefit. We just need to keep the good things and reject the bad. Sometimes that's difficult.

Do All Believers In Christ Go In The Rapture?

The question of the covenant "oneness" of Christ's body has been under attack by legalists in the church for centuries. Currently, we are under the age of grace, which means we are under the Gospel of Grace. Saint Paul's ministry to the Gentiles reveals something amazing: We get an incredible deal! Everything in our salvation (which includes our translation and rapture) comes to us as a free gift. Our justification is free (Rom. 3:24)...our eternal life is free (Rom. 6:23)...our salvation is free (Eph. 2:8-9)...our righteousness is free (Rom. 5:15-18). So, what's the point of all the free gifts? If everything the Gentiles receive from God is a free gift, then it makes all of us equal. Another name for this is "oneness". The principle of the law of faith that rules the Grace Gospel is that no boasting according to works is allowed by anyone in Christ's body. That means there are no special groups of devoted Christians that receive preferential treatment in the area of redemption. Why? Because works (or Christian performance) is removed from the requirements and everyone is treated equally-everyone receives the same "free gift".

"For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." (Rom 4:2-5 KJV)

Another reason for all these "free gifts", I believe, is to make Israel jealous (Rom. 11:11). Israel, though set aside for a while, has never ceased being special to God. Here we see God "selling the farm" for a group of people (the Gentiles) that are despised by Law practicing Jews. Yet, I don't see Israel getting jealous over the legalist's brand of Christianity. Why should they?

Some do not realize that the Gospel of Grace is vastly different than the Gospel preached to the kingdom of Israel (found in the books Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). The "kingdom" gospel preached by the 12 apostles includes the observance of the Mosaic Law. HOWEVER, the Grace Gospel preached by Saint Paul to the Gentile world clearly omits the keeping of the Law as a requirement for our redemption.

"Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." (Gal 2:16 KJV)

Saint Paul's teaching draws a line in the sand and is very unpopular with legalists. It rejects "works", which is the foundation for all forms of Christian performance and maintains that our justification only comes "by the faith of Christ". That statement takes "us" out of the picture and makes Jesus Christ preeminent! Yet, legalists believe Paul's teaching is too "subjective" and use Scripture out of context in order to add some form of works or Christian performance to Grace.

Where does this error come from? There are two spiritual "administrations" in the New Testament: The kingdom of Israel and the predominantly Gentile Church. The twelve apostles were called by God to minister the gospel to Israel, while Saint Paul was called to minister a uniquely different gospel to the Gentiles. Galatians chapters 1 & 2 discuss these two gospels and the fact that they are different. Modern day legalists confuse these two administrations and attempt to take a gospel that was designed for Israel and make it binding upon the predominantly Gentile church (This is what Acts chapter 15 is about). The mixing of these two administrations is the source of the legalist's doctrine and the fuel behind the false teaching of the partial-rapture doctrine--and all other legalistic traditions found in the modern church. Don't think for a moment that you're ever going to win an argument with these folks. Jesus couldn't do it--and you won't either! You can provide all the Scripture in the Bible that proves the validity of the Grace Gospel and its authority over the rapture and legalists ignore it. I believe that their commitment to the Law causes the same kind of "blindness" that Saint Paul attributed to Israel in Romans 11:25. No matter how much you try--you can't get a blind man to see.

Again, what does this discussion about grace have to do with the rapture? Saint Paul speaking under the authority of the Gospel of Grace refutes the idea that the translation and rapture is reserved for a "few chosen" believers in Christ.

"Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" (1 Cor 15:51-55 KJV)

How much clearer can it be? Is Saint Paul lying when he uses the phrase "we shall all be changed"? He didn't say, "some of you will be changed". He didn't say, "only the most devoted of you will be changed". He didn't say these things because they aren't true and to do so would destroy the core truth of the Grace Gospel. Trying to redefine what Paul said is like the presidential sex scandal a few years ago..."It depends on what the definition of "is" is. Legalists enjoy parsing words in order to prove their position and cause confusion.

There is also another neglected "angle" to Paul's teaching that "all are changed" at the rapture. Among the churches that Saint Paul cared for the Corinthians were the most carnal. Paul constantly corrected them for allowing these "carnal desires" to exist among them.

"For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?" (1 Cor 3:3 KJV)

In addition, Paul rebuked the Corinthians for allowing a believer in their midst to practice "fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife" (1 Cor. 5:1). We know from the context of the rebuke that this fellow is a believer and would be "saved in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ" even though his flesh would be delivered for destruction (meaning unclear). I site these examples to illustrate not "a license to sin", but that the Corinthians were the most "fleshly" believers under Paul's care. Yet, to these same believers he said "all" would be changed at the translation. I believe Paul's teaching to the Corinthians is designed to give us the confidence that Christ's completed redemption at the rapture will be for all believers in Christ!

The Ten Virgins (Read Matthew 25:1-13)

The parable of the five wise and the five foolish virgins is one of the most abused in the New Testament among endtime prophecy teachers. If you feel it's your duty to generate fear among Christians--this is the one to use. A common interpretation of this parable is that these ten virgins are all Christians. We are told that the five wise virgins are Christians that possess the Holy Spirit in abundance because of their devotion and commitment to the Lord. The five foolish virgins are Christians who have a limited supply of the Holy Spirit because of their lack of devotion or worldliness. Stop and think for a minute; what's the problem with this kind theology? Does it make you more secure in Christ's salvation-or does it create anxiety and fear to think that maybe Jesus didn't really pay the whole price for my redemption after all?

Among the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John--Matthew concentrates his writings on Israel (the Jews). Again, the most common error among modern day Judaizers is taking Scripture directed at Israel and applying it to the mostly Gentile Church that is under the administration of grace. This misapplication of Scripture is the source of all "toxic" gospels, fear-generating doctrines and condemning prophetic messages floating about the modern church.

Jesus is dealing with a disobedient Israel in many of his parables. These stories are allegories that illustrate a spiritual truth. The focus of the parable of the ten virgins is the lamps and the oil supply. Unlike other parables that are repeated in one or more of the four gospels--the parable of the 10 virgins is only found in Matthew! This alone tells us something about its target audience. The 5 wise virgins brought an adequate supply of oil--the foolish did not. The foolish virgins needed more oil because their lamps were going out. In this parable Jesus portrays the 5 foolish virgins as "the Jews". The tip-off is that the wise virgins told the foolish to "go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves". As the foolish virgins were out trying to purchase more oil the Bridegroom came and everyone present went in the Marriage. The foolish virgins were locked out of the Marriage and were not allowed to enter.

Oil in this parable (and in the Bible in general) represents the Holy Spirit. Here's the problem. If the oil is the Holy Spirit the five foolish virgins could never represent a Christian. Why? Because under grace Christians receive the Holy Spirit as a gift from God. There's always an abundant supply and they never need to go somewhere and "buy" more. The Holy Spirit seals every Christian at the time they believe (Eph. 1:11-14). Peter, on the day of Pentecost said, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38). Later, at the house of Cornelius (a Gentile believer) it is written, "And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 10:45).

While studying this parable, the Lord brought to my attention another important example. It's the story of Simon the magician in Acts chapter 8. Simon was impressed when he saw the Holy Spirit imparted by the laying on of the apostle's hands and offered them money for this ability. Peter rebuked him and said, "Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money" (Acts 8:20). Peter went on to accuse Simon of "wickedness" and told him to ask God's forgiveness. Simon was previously a magician--someone who deals in witchcraft and casting spells (also known as "bewitching" people). Acts 8 tells us that Simon "also believed" after hearing Philip preach about the kingdom of God. So, we know that Simon is a believer even though the old "bewitching" lifestyle continued to linger.

This dovetails with Saint Paul's warning to the Galatian church...

"O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" (Gal 3:1-2 KJV)

Paul's words give a loud warning that anyone that attributes salvation to "wages that are paid" using the "works of the law" is moving in a bewitching spirit--or a spirit of witchcraft. This spirit is legalistic and relentlessly pushes its own agenda no matter what the Word of God says. Can you see why Jesus referred to these people as "wolves in sheep clothing"? You can never reason with a wolf. That's why they reject or seek to modify the Grace Gospel. A bewitching spirit won't allow anyone under its control to submit to God's grace! This is serious business and not to be taken lightly. It's an issue that directly effects the "truth of the Gospel". It's not to be swept under the rug in order to preserve unity or as an expression of "loving one another". Saint Paul never expressed love by allowing the truth of the gospel to be trashed.

So, how does this apply to the 5 foolish virgins? They went forth to purchase oil (the Holy Spirit). It suggests "works" are required as wages to purchase salvation (admission to the marriage). This can never be the action of a Christian who receives their oil (the Holy Spirit) freely as a gift. Yet, attempting to purchase salvation through works is the spiritual profile of disobedient Israel as we see below...

"But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed." (Rom 9:31-33 KJV)

And Again...

"Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God." (Rom 10:1-3 KJV)

"Going about to establish their own righteousness" (self-righteousness) is one of Israel's greatest sins. Why? Because establishing your own righteousness is the same as trying to "buy" your righteousness (right standing--Divine favor) from God with your performance, devotion or deeds. In Israel's case they tried to purchase God's favor with the "deeds of the Mosaic Law". God always rejects such an offer. Yet, many that practice this kind of self-righteousness are getting excited about the nearness of the rapture. I haven't figured out the reason for their excitement. According to their own doctrine, they can't possibly know if they've met God's unspecified devotional requirements to be included in the rapture. Their excitement isn't based on rational thinking, but on "fuzzy theology". Thank God, those of us under grace can know because our Lord Jesus Christ met all the requirements for us! That's the glory of our salvation by grace through faith.

"Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." (Rom 4:4-5 KJV)

Now you know the identity of the 5 foolish virgins. Don't let anyone put you into bondage using this parable again.

Legalists take advantage of our ignorance. By claiming that the 5 foolish virgins are Christians who have let their lamps go out (lack of devotion or commitment)--they can torment and manipulate you into any kind of religious performance system they wish to create. This was the doctrine that Jesus hated so much--practiced by the Scribes and Pharisees. If we make the mistake of believing that a lack of devotion to the Lord places us in the "foolish virgins" group, we will do anything to end the fear and anxiety. Welcome to the world of religion and spiritual bondage--you'll never fully discover your freedom and liberty in Christ for the rest of your life.

The Bride Of Christ

The rapture of the Church is understood as Jesus coming for his bride. Out of curiosity, I did a Scripture search on the word "bride" (as in Bride of Christ). The way some refer to it you would think that the word appears everywhere in the New Testament. I found three direct references to "The Bride"; one in the book of Revelation, one in 2 Cor. 11:2 and one in Eph. 5:28-32. There are more indirect references when you consider the parables about the wedding feast.

"For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." (2 Cor 11:2 KJV)

I discuss this subject because some endtime teachers redefine "The Bride of Christ" into a "special" group of believers that possess a high level of devotion to the Lord. They are quick to point out that Christ's Bride doesn't include all believers. Some teach that "The Bride" represents only the "most devoted" believers who will go in the rapture. This is another variation of the partial-rapture doctrine and the continued effort by legalists to divide Christ's body. The epistles of Saint Paul clear up this confusion. There are two terms that describe all believers in Christ: The Body of Christ and the Church. Both these terms describe the same group of people...all living believers in Christ on the earth. Now, lets hear what Saint Paul has to say:

"And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence." (Col 1:18 KJV)

And again...

"And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all." (Eph 1:22-23 KJV)

And again...

"Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." (1 Cor 12:27 KJV)

Notice that Paul said all believers in Christ at Corinth were members of the body of Christ. He didn't say there was a special grouping. Again, this is interesting because Saint Paul considered believers at Corinth some of the most "carnal" under his care.

Notice that Saint Paul calls "the body" (the Body of Christ) of which Christ is head--THE CHURCH. That means the "all" who is the body is the same "all" who is Christ's Church. Next, Paul makes another important connection...

"So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church." (Eph 5:28-32 KJV)

In the context of speaking about the relationship between a husband and a wife, Paul says that his comments actually reveal "a mystery" about Christ and the church. To preserve the context of this Scripture...another way you might say this is, "Christ and his wife, the church". A bride becomes a wife--that's the end of the process.

Don't allow anyone to deceive you into believing that the "Bride of Christ" is a special group of highly devoted Christians while everyone else is in a "lower" class and must suffer the purging of the tribulation period. Jesus hates this practice of dismembering and dividing his body. If you've obeyed the Grace Gospel in Romans 10:9-10 and 1 Cor. 15:1-4 as Paul commanded, you're saved, you're a member of the body of Christ, you're a member of Christ's church...and you're part of the Bride of Christ!

For a peek at the "lamb's bride" read Revelation 21:2,9.

Beware Of Dreams, Visions And Prophecies

The Bible tells us not to despise prophesying (1 Thess 5:20). The prophet Joel said that in the last days, "...your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions." (Joel 2:28) Yet, there are those who engage in these things to generate fear and anxiety. Legalistic salvation doctrine, religious tradition and a faulty Scriptural foundation use fear to control and manipulate others. They feel it is their duty as a "Christian" to frighten you into doing what they think is right--for your own good of course. Therefore, it is not unusual for them to produce supernatural dreams, visions and prophecies that support these doctrines of fear. They sincerely believe they're bringing you "God's Word"--and that's the frightening part. By suggesting that God gave them their dream, vision or prophecy--they get immediate credibility. If you disagree with their message--you're now disagreeing with God! Some "prophets" today are self-appointed. They are not prophets of God, but prophets who "speak from their own hearts". Such was the case in the Old Testament between Jeremiah (God's Prophet) and Hananiah (Read Ezekial 13:1-10). Many times a prophet's heart can contain good intentions with noble plans. Yet, God still considers it a serious sin when a person speaks as a prophet of God from their own heart. Why? Because it seduces God's people, causing them to go in wrong directions. We must also consider another uncomfortable possibility...Satan also operates in this area of dreams, visions and prophecies. And, our enemy is most skilled at operating in the area of religion, while appearing as an angel of light and a "minister of righteousness" (2 Cor. 11:14-15).

Some say that "signs and wonders" are not for us today. This is not true, especially when you consider the supernatural nature of endtime events. Those who reject the Biblical validity of dreams, visions and prophecy tend to over-react to the false signs and throw everything out. I reject this position and so does the Bible. Discernment is needed in this area of the supernatural-a place where Satan our enemy also operates. Yet, few Christians want to pay the price to exercise it. It takes knowledge of God's Word and accepting responsibility for your own beliefs. Today, it's popular to want to be "spoon-fed" by someone who's "plugged-in" to God. Many feel this is the "safe" place to be, yet, the reverse is usually true.

I'm discussing this area of supernatural signs because legalists take full advantage of it. The problem is that the Bible tells us that we "prophesy in part" (1 Cor. 13:9). That means some of the prophecy may be true while other parts false. It is hard to separate the false from the true and it could be wrong to throw everything out just because part of it misses the mark. This is a dilemma for many of us unless we have a good understanding of God's Word.

Recently, I was reading a message given by a respected prophet. She warned about the judgements to come during the endtimes. This was the basic message: "God is getting ready to judge America and disobedient Christians for their sins--and He was going to ignore their cries for mercy during their fiery torment". Now folks, that message contains one false statement and maybe one true statement. Do I think that God will judge America for sin if she doesn't reverse her course? Yes--and I'm not alone in this assessment. However, the New Testament's Gospel of Grace says that all those in Christ (true Christians) are not under condemnation, judgement or the wrath of God (Rom. 8:1, 1 Thess. 5:9). As we discovered earlier, all true believers in Christ possess God's righteousness as a free gift-from the least of us (the most carnal) to the greatest. As far as righteousness goes-we all receive the same free gift. In the Old Testament Abraham interceded with God before the destruction of Sodom to spare the righteous--because it was wrong to destroy the righteous with the wicked (Gen. 18:25). Abraham used bold, audacious language with God over this issue...he said:

"That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen 18:25 KJV)

That's the kind of boldness that would get you thrown out of most fundamentalist churches today. Abraham just told God--the Judge of all the earth--that he would be committing an act of wrongdoing if he used the same judgement on the righteous that he used on the wicked. This story is in the Bible for a reason. The judgement of Sodom and the deliverance of righteous Lot are used in the New Testament as an example to illustrate the final judgement of the world in these last days. If judging the righteous was wrong in Abraham's day--it's still wrong today. Saint Paul made this clear in his epistles that believers in Christ are not appointed to God's judgement and wrath. I know the arguments. Yet, legalists want to make our salvation depend on our Christian service, performance or self-righteousness, yet it can never be. When anyone gives a prophecy that God is going to punish Christians without mercy for their sins-you can bet the false gospel of legalism is at the root. I'm just as upset as anyone about the apostate condition of the modern church. Yes, I understand the worldliness that some Christians are caught in and I don't approve of their sin. Yet, I also understand that our righteousness and justification is granted under the Grace Gospel freely as a gift--and Jesus bought and paid for that gift with his blood. That means none of us can earn righteousness or live at some performance level to deserve it. Do some believers fail to walk worthy of that Godly gift? Unfortunately, Yes. Does that failure cancel the gift? Thankfully, No. The penalty for wrong living is experienced in this life through circumstances that result from our actions--and after the rapture, through lost rewards at the Bema seat of Christ. Sin can never nullify our gift of righteousness, otherwise it wouldn't be a gift and it wouldn't be of grace (Rom. 6:14). If our righteousness is actually "self-righteousness" we could never be saved by grace as God says we are. Legalists reject the authority of God's grace by adding their own laws.

That's why "messages from God" spoken by a prophet that pronounce judgement and condemnation on God's people in the age of grace anger me. They're falsely spoken in the name of God in contradiction to Scripture and create all kinds of anxiety and fear in those who don't understand the basic tenants of Saint Paul's message. The truth is that all of us deserve God's judgement and destruction. Nobody is righteous enough in themselves to avoid God's condemnation--even the legalists. Yet, that's exactly why Jesus shed his blood--to redeem us from God's judgement and wrath in this life (through the translation and rapture) and from eternal destruction in hell.

There are many that "speak for God" from their particular endtime perspective--right or wrong. You'll rarely see anyone give a prophetic message inconsistent with his or her endtime beliefs. For instance, a person who is "post-trib" will always give a prophecy in line with that belief. For this reason it is important to know a prophet's core beliefs before receiving anything they have to say. The problem is many of these beliefs are based on wrong Bible interpretation. Regardless, God's true prophets are out there. Godly visions are out there. Godly dreams are out there. They're all still valid today. God is pouring out His Spirit in these last days as He promised. I've noticed recently that the Holy Spirit is giving visions and dreams to Christian children. I'm not surprised, since Jesus said, "of such is the kingdom of heaven". Children haven't developed spiritual agendas like adults and they're more likely to be candid about their experiences. This is an exciting area that will increase as the Lord's return gets closer.

A quick way to tell the difference between a true and a false dream, vision or prophecy is the level of hopelessness it generates. If it condemns you as a believer in Christ and gives no hope other than the expectation of God's fiery judgement (obey my religious rules or burn) then run away as fast as you can. There's a lot of this found in Christian fundamentalist (of which I am one) and holiness-type churches. Another test is that of "Christian performance". If a prophetic message, vision or dream suggests that you're in danger of being "left behind" to suffer the tribulation because you didn't pray enough, didn't repent enough, didn't witness enough or didn't read the Bible enough...you need to be cautious. Yet, those things (praying, repenting, Bible reading, witnessing) aren't bad in themselves and should be practiced by all Christians. They just have no bearing on our freely given redemption (which includes the translation and rapture) through faith in Christ alone.

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Copyright © 2004 Rock of Offence
Most recent revision November 2004