[NOTE: This teaching originally appeared first as some recorded spoken messages in the 1950’s, as some written articles in the 1960’s, then put together as a pamphlet written in the early 1970’s, by Bill Britton of Springfield, Missouri. Bill was one of the first evangelical, bibliocentric followers of Jesus in our era to question the pre-tribulation rapture theory. The article appears pretty much as Bill first wrote it—with some additional material and some minor editing I have done.]
One of the most persistent doctrinal questions from sincere, truth-seeking followers of Jesus today is: “What about the “Rapture”? They are asking what will happen when Jesus returns to consummate his earthly Kingdom? How soon will these things happen? Who will be involved in the Rapture? Many followers of Jesus, newly enlightened by God’s Spirit, have come to an awakening realization that the Rapture theories propounded for the past 200 years or so do not harmonize with the pure, simple teaching of the written Word of God, the Bible.
We know this: Jesus will return. He said He would return personally to planet earth. Of this there is no doubt. The Bible makes that very plain. But what happens at that time? Who will see Him? These are questions that deserve an answer.
First let us start from the negative side, and expose the false teaching so many espouse and teach. We will examine the teaching and then show when and where this teaching originated. Then we will look at the Bible and see what it actually says, letting Holy Spirit shed divine light on the Word of God and show how it harmonizes with what God is doing in the earth today.
The Escape Theory
First, please understand this basic fact: the English word “rapture” does not appear anywhere in the Bible! Yet the word has been associated with the return of Jesus, and spoken of as the “hope of the Church” for almost 200 years. Although this word is not found in the Bible, it is found in the dictionary. Some dictionaries give more definitions and shades of meaning than others, but the dictionary I now have before me says simply: “Rapture: strong feeling that absorbs the mind; very great joy.” It doesn’t say anything about events surrounding the return of Jesus.
However, to many thousands of followers of Jesus, the word Rapture brings to their mind a picture of white-robed followers of Jesus rising from the earth and soaring through the air to a meeting on some clouds somewhere in outer space. This image has been preached evangelistically until many people have come to accept it as literal fact, without bothering to check and see if that is what the Bible actually teaches.
According to those who hold this view of the Rapture, the Trumpet may sound any second, even before you wake up tomorrow morning. When that happens, the cemeteries will burst open and the dead will rise, and those still living will go zooming off into space to meet the Lord in the air. The reason for this is, they say, because the Antichrist will then appear and the Great Tribulation will begin. And God is far too good to let His people go through such tribulation. The implication is that they are far too weak to survive in the face of such demonic power and horrific events.
Having been raptured, they will then attend the Marriage supper of the Lamb up in Heaven, get their “rewards” for their labors here, and have a wonderful seven years of joy and singing in heaven, while their unsaved loved ones, their children who may not have been born again, and the untaught millions of heathen are suffering untold agonies on earth. “They got what they deserve,” seems to be the general attitude. “They should have gotten prepared for the Rapture, like I did.”
This may not be your attitude, and this may not even be the way you view the “Rapture.” Even within denominations, there are wide differences of opinions on this subject, ranging from violent “escape rapture” adherents, to those whose beliefs are shaky or who just don’t know. I have had many people write and say to me: “I know my denomination preaches this theory, but I have always had questions about it and I just can’t find it in the Bible.”
Pre-Trib, Mid-Trib, or Post-Trib?
Because we dare to examine the Bible’s complete teachings on this glorious subject of Jesus’ coming, and dare to teach differently than many others, some spread the word that we do not believe in the coming of the Lord, or the “catching up of Jesus’ followers.” This is not so. We believe in a very real “coming of the Lord,” while those who believe in the “Rapture,” actually believe in the “departure of Jesus’ followers. While we teach the “appearing of Jesus,” they teach the “disappearing of the Church.” I will explain more about that later in this teaching.
For those who believe in a geographical removal of believers from the earth at Jesus’ coming, there are three basic views:
1. The first view is the Pre-Trib (Pre-Tribulation) Rapture. This means that God’s people will not be here for any of the seven-year Tribulation of plagues, vials, etc, as they believe to be taught in Matthew 25 and the Book of Revelation. Bumper stickers proclaim: “In case of Rapture, this car will self-destruct.” Tracts for air passengers state: “In case the Trumpet sounds, be prepared for this plane to crash if your pilot is a Christian.” These approaches are designed to generate fear, and in some cases they do. One of the biblical references they use is Revelation 4: 1, where John heard a voice “as it were of a trumpet talking with me, which said: “After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, ‘Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.'”
[views 2 and 3 follow a few paragraphs below.]
The Rapture theorists believe this is a word-picture of the Church being snatched up off the earth into heaven. But it says no such thing. Another reference they use is Revelation 3: 10: “Because you have kept my command to persevere, I also will keep you safe in the midst of trials which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” This, they say, proves Christians are gone from the earth during the time of great tribulation. But it actually says no such thing. In fact, verse 9 says the opposite. It tells us that God will bring the enemy (the devil) down before our feet. We have to be here on earth for that to happen.
A Bible Word Study
Another biblical reference they use is 1 Thessalonians 4: 13 – 17. They teach that followers of Jesus living at the time Jesus returns will be caught up to meet Jesus in the air and then return with Him to heaven. Actually, the meaning of the word “meet” in this reference means just the opposite. It employs a very specific Greek word for greeting a visiting dignitary in ancient times. The word is apantesis. The same word is used in Matthew 25: 6 to describe the bridesmaids who go out to “meet” the bridegroom and then accompany him into the feast, and also in Acts 28: 15 to describe the Romans who go out to “meet” Paul as he arrives in their city. Those other two usages of the word apantesis help us see more specifically what Paul means by the term “meet the Lord.”
The key factor with the normal usage of the Greek verb “meet” is this: In no case does the arriving dignitary change directions and go back where he came from after people come to meet him; rather, he continues with them back into their house or city from where they came to meet him. In Matthew, for example, the bridegroom’s arrival is greeted with a shout: “Look! Here is the bridegroom. Come out to meet him.” But the bridegroom does not then kidnap the bridesmaids and take them away with him after they go out to meet him! Rather, the bridegroom goes with the bridesmaids into the house from where they came, where everyone is waiting for him. “The bridegroom came, and those who were with him went into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut.” (Matthew 25: 10)
Similarly in Acts 28, the followers of Jesus from Rome go out to meet Paul while his is still outside the city gates, because they are so eager to welcome him. “The followers of Jesus from there, when they heard of us, came as far as the Forum of Apius and Three Taverns to meet us,” Acts records. Paul does not the switch directions and take those followers of Jesus away from their city after they go out to “meet” him. Rather, Paul accompanies them back where they came from—into their city.
Paul’s use of the same Greek word for “meet” in I Thessalonians 4 suggest that Paul is proclaiming a similar meeting where both those who are alive and those who are dead go up to “meet” Jesus in the air on his way back to earth as he “descends.” This image of meeting Jesus in the air underscores that every follower of Jesus—whether dead or alive—will be resurrected together to greet Jesus in the air and then return to earth with Him at which time He will consummate his Kingdom on the freshly restored earth—not in some far off heaven.
[NOTE from Bill Boylan: To further illustrate what Bill Britton is teaching here, here’s a true event which occurred in my teen years in my hometown of Rapid City, South Dakota. Dwight Eisenhower was then President of the United States. He flew in to the Rapid City airport. When he landed, all the dignitaries from Rapid City—the Mayor, City Council members, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, etc., drove outside the city about 8 miles to the airport to greet the President. After they greeted him, they then returned with him to Rapid City in a motorcade to give him the keys to the city; after they greeted him at the airport, they did not then go away somewhere else. When we meet Jesus in the air upon his return, we will then come back to earth with Him; we will not then go away somewhere else.]
What Will Be Happening When Jesus Returns?
2. Next we come to those who hold the “Mid-Trib” (mid-tribulation view). They believe the Bible teaches that the Church will have to go through the first 3 ½ years of the Great Tribulation while the Antichrist is warring against Jesus’ followers, but will be raptured and spared the last 3 ½ years while God is pouring out the worst judgments upon the earth. They believe this because of the many scriptures that show God bringing His people through great fire and into glorious victory. Yet there are other biblical references which indicate a place of great joy and glory for the “overcomer” during this time, so they surmise that God will take them off the earth during the last half of the seven-year Tribulation. This is a “middle of the road” position, designed as a compromise between two seemingly different views in the Bible.
3. Finally, there are those followers of Jesus who espouse the “Post-Trib” (Post-Tribulation) view. They believe that the Church goes through the entire seven years of tribulation (some believe in only 3 1/2 years total), and that only after the Tribulation are Jesus’ followers “caught up,” as they teach from the two Books of Thessalonians. They see a Church being empowered by the Spirit to survive the worst onslaughts of Satan for seven years. They believe God is able to keep His children in the midst of the fire, as with the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace in the Book of Daniel. This is an admirable attitude, and much closer to truth than the “Pre-Trib” view that was born out of fear and self-centeredness.
Some think that if the “Post-Trib” teaching is correct, that this would mean seven years of horrible suffering and untold agony for God’s people, and almost total destruction of the Church. But this is not so. A beautiful scripture in Isaiah 26: 20 – 21 informs us (in principle) that the Lord does not intend for His people to suffer the horrors of the Tribulation. Someone may ask if the Church will be here on earth for the Tribulation, and the answer is NO! We will be here DURING the Tribulation, but we will not be here FOR it. While the “Day of the Lord” (the Tribulation) is a day of judgment for the wicked, that same Day of the Lord will be a day of glory and power for God’s children!
Isaiah says: “Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourself, as it were, for a little moment, until the indignation is past. For behold, the LORD comes out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity….” Now, those who espouse the Pre-Tribulation Rapture theory say that this passage in Isaiah proves that God will remove His people from this earth during the tribulation. It proves no such thing, and in fact, it says exactly the opposite. We will be here while the wrath of God is being poured out, but it shall not be poured out upon us, for we shall be hidden “in Christ.” We shall be in an “Ark of Safety,” as Noah was. “As it was in the days of Noah….”
[NOTE from Bill Boylan: There are many people who hold the view that there will be no future tribulation (at least no worse than any other historical tribulations of God’s people) before Jesus’ return. This view is based upon many biblical references, and does seem to have great validity. This view simply holds that Jesus will return at some point in time when God the Fathers says it’s time for Jesus to return—with no specific cataclysmic events “scheduled” to occur for either 7 or 3 ½ years immediately preceding Jesus’ return; in other words, those who hold this view believe that the next “prophetic event” to occur will simply be Jesus’ return; no other dire prophecies need to be fulfilled before his return. I invite you to read another teaching on this website titled Revelation]
Enoch and Noah
Some holding the Rapture view of events like to refer to Enoch, who was “translated that he should not see death,” (Hebrews 11: 5) and say that he is an Old Testament pre-picture of those who are raptured before the Tribulation. But Enoch did not live during the time that judgment was being poured out on the earth in the form of a flood. Enoch was translated 600+ years before the Flood, and never met Noah. In other words, his translation was not for the purpose of helping him escape the flood. Jesus did not say: “As it was in the days of Enoch….” He said, “As it was in the days of NOAH….” And Noah went through the flood, protected by the Ark he had prepared and entered into.
And when the flood was over, and the wicked had been “taken,” he stepped out of the Ark, and inherited the earth. He and his family were the only ones to own the earth now, for everyone else who might have had a deed to a piece of property was gone, along with their heirs. So there was no one left to dispute Noah’s claim. He inherited the earth. Read Psalm 37, which is an example of this principle taught throughout Bible.
Paul’s Teaching About The “Great Tribulation”
Paul never preached a message of fear surrounding the return of Jesus. He never told his readers they would escape the battle. In fact, in Ephesians 6 he urges them to put on the entire spiritual armor of God in order to be ready to face whatever came in the “evil day” (the Tribulation). I don’t know how anyone could miss that, but they just seem to ignore it. Let me quote from Ephesians 6: 13 to see how plain it really is: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand [vigorously oppose, bravely resist, stand face-to-face against an adversary, stand your ground] in the evil day [the Tribulation], and having done all, to stand.” Not fly away, but stand! That’s the gospel Paul preached.
That’s the true teaching concerning the Day of the Lord, the Great Tribulation, “that evil day.” The real “escape” that the Bible teaches is found in I Corinthians 10: 13: “No temptation [testing] has overtaken you except such as is common to humankind; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted [tested] beyond what you are able, but with the temptation [testing] will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” I encourage you to read and meditate upon that reference in The Amplified Bible. God and His faithful followers of Jesus have always been victorious, and our “hiding place” is in Christ. “Your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3: 3).
It is the fearful, the faithless, the unbelieving, or the wicked who seek a geographical hiding place. Some want to fly away from the earth and go somewhere else while others cry for the natural rocks and mountains to hide them. (Rev 6: 15) Today, there is a large-scale movement in which some are seeking a hiding place in some natural place, a farm, a desert, a foreign country, a wilderness area, etc. But it will not work. It is only another form of “self-rapture.” You cannot escape from the devil or Antichrist that way. Your protection and safety is only in Christ, and in absolute obedience to the Spirit of God. Whether it be on a farm or in the city, in a wilderness area or in a metropolitan center, the hiding place is the same: in Christ! Hallelujah!
Not When, But What?
Confused by now? Perhaps, perhaps not. So far, we have only explained the various theories that are being preached about Jesus’ second coming, and given a negative and confusing picture. But keep reading. The picture will get brighter and clearer. The big hassle about the return of Jesus has mostly been about the time it happens: Pre-, Mid-, or Post-Tribulation. But the Holy Spirit seems to be speaking specifically these days, not so much as to the time of Jesus’ return, but rather as to what takes place when He returns.
Many have simply assumed that whenever He returns, we will go zooming off the earth into outer space to meet the Lord somewhere in another geographical location “somewhere beyond the blue.” Detailed paintings have been drawn by artists—and distributed by the multiplied thousands—of Jesus standing on a stratocumulus cloud a few thousand feet in the air, while Jesus-believers are being lifted out of a village below. Some are a few feet off the ground, others halfway to the cloud, etc. A most unscriptural painting, yet many thousands of followers of Jesus have formed their beliefs from this sort of thing, and take it as acceptable Bible teaching. Let me give you the history of how the Rapture theory got started.
Edward Irving and Margaret MacDonald
Perhaps you have heard of the Irvingite movement led by Edward Irving, known as the Catholic Apostolic Church. The Encyclopedia Britannica, volume 12, 1966 issue, pages 648-649 (and other reliable resources; for example, look up Edward Irving and the Catholic Apostolic Movement on the internet), describe Edward Irving and the controversy over his teachings in Scotland and England in the early 1800’s. He was excommunicated by the London presbytery, and in 1833 was condemned and deposed from the ministry of the Church of Scotland because of his teaching concerning “the sinfulness of Christ’s humanity.”
He also began to teach a “rapture of the Church”, after a young Scottish lass by the name of Margaret MacDonald had fallen into a trance and described a vision in which she said she saw the saints leaving the earth at the return of the Lord, before the Tribulation. Margaret’s trance and vision took place in the spring of 1830, while she was living in Port Glasgow, Scotland. Her “revelation” was recorded in a book written by R. N. Norton and printed in London in 1861.
Prior to this time, the Church, clear back to the Apostles, had always preached that the Church would go victoriously through the Tribulation. There is no record of the “escape rapture” theory being taught by anyone anywhere before 1830. Also, on April 30, 1831, a Mrs. J. B. Cardale, who later joined Irving’s church, had uttered a personal prophetic revelation in a home prayer meeting, echoing Margaret MacDonald’s revelation of a pre-Tribulation rapture.
It was from these supposed revelations that the modern doctrinal teaching and modern phraseology about the “Rapture” teaching arose. It came not from the Bible, but from that which was falsely purported to come from the Spirit of God. Edward Irving accepted this teaching, and it was taught at prophetic meetings at Powerscourt House in Ireland, attended by Plymouth Brethren founder and organizer, John Darby. Irving’s views influenced Darby, C. H. Mackintosh, and C. I. Scofield (whose Bible notes popularized the new theory).
So it was a young Scottish girl having a “revelation” who originated the idea of a Rapture, and is so recorded on page 15 of Norton’s book about the Catholic Apostolic Church. Darby and Scofield, along with Clarence Larkin and his charts, began to teach this new theory, and in the early 1900’s it became even more widespread.
[NOTE by Bill Boylan: At this point in Bill Britton’s article I want to show the “progression” of the perpetuation of the Rapture teaching during the past 180+ years (right up to the present day) since Margaret MacDonald saw her vision. First, Margaret MacDonald had her vision of the “Rapture” in 1830. Next, Irving, Darby, Norton, and MacIntosh wrote about it; their writings became extremely (and strongly and disproportionately) influential in both England and the United States in affecting the thinking of the emerging fundamentalist, evangelical, and Bible School movements in the mid- to latter part of the 19th century.
Darby’s and MacIntosh’s writings also greatly influenced C. I. Scofield, whose Scofield Bible further influenced fundamentalism, evangelicalism, and the Bible School movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Even today, the influential Moody Bible Institute in Chicago offers a detailed and extensive correspondence course based on The Scofield Bible, including Scofield’s teachings about the Rapture.
Then in the mid- to late 20th century, such men as Hal Lindsay, Jack van Impe, and Tim LaHaye with their pseudo-theological thinking served to greatly spread the Rapture theory through their prolific fiction writings and appearances on emerging Christian television. Think about it—what intelligent, thinking Christian would dare to question the “truth” of LaHaye’s best-selling “Left Behind” series of fiction novels—and the widely viewed fiction movies based on his novels?
Finally, in the waning years of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st, prominent “televangelists” on the worldwide Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) and John Hagee, Pastor of a large Texas megachurch with his huge, detailed, beautifully painted “end-time charts” on stage behind his pulpit, further served to spread the Rapture theory worldwide to millions of viewers. That, dear reader, is essentially how the theory has been spread and perpetuated since 1830 right up to the time of this writing.
In these few brief paragraphs, I have g-r-e-a-t-l-y oversimplified the progression of thought and teaching about the Rapture since 1830. Many hundreds of more people have been involved during the past 200 years, but I wanted to at least give you a “feel” for the major characters in that progression. End of Bill Boylan’s comments. Now back to the gist of Bill Britton’s article…]
When Holy Spirit was poured out in power at the beginning of the 20th century—launching the modern Pentecostal movement—many mistakenly believed that God was also emphasizing the nearness of the coming of Jesus. But the new Pentecostals received no new light at that time on the specific events of His appearing. They simply carried over what the non-Pentecostals fundamentalists and evangelicals had been teaching regarding Miss MacDonald’s “revelation.”
He Is Really Coming!
That is a very brief history of how the theory of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture began and continued to be propagated right up until the present day. Now let’s turn to the Bible, and see what it really says about the “catching up” of the Church. While many Pentecostal people, churches, and denominations began to lose their “fire” and “die on the vine” by the mid-20th century, God was still moving by His Spirit all over the world. By the mid-20th century, hungry, concerned followers of Jesus began to “hear from God” in a fresh and glorious way, igniting the “Latter Rain Movement” in Canada and the worldwide “Charismatic Movement” among almost every Church denomination.
By the mid-20th century, a fresh outpouring of Holy Spirit swept across America and around the world. Among the vital truths re-established through that worldwide outpouring of Holy Spirit (which continues to this day) was the fact that the Body of Jesus (the Church) was one body, and that divisive denominational religious systems were not of God.
It became clear to many that “old wineskins” could not contain the great things that God was preparing to do in the earth. In fact, what God was about to do would be a means of destroying the power of “Babylon” [denominationalism] and her whole “harlot system” of dead religious practices and traditionalism. I am not denouncing denominationalism. God loves all His children—in and out of traditional, “dead” churches. But, God “hates” the organized “Babylonian systems” that divide his children in into warring camps and prevents them from progressing into renewed spiritual truths and understanding.
Another area where God began to unfold truth in the mid-20th century was about the Second Coming of Jesus. First of all, He gave glorious illumination and spiritual insight into the “mystery” of the appearing of “Christ in you, the hope of Glory” (Colossians 1: 27). Renewed biblical enlightenment began to shine into the hearts of many of God’s children about the “manifestation [revealing, or unveiling] of the sons of God” (Romans 8: 19), how to “overcome” (1 John and Revelation), the “Manchild” [male son] (Revelation 12: 5), the Army of the Lord, the Melchisedec priesthood (Hebrews), etc. Then Holy Spirit began to disclose that the Rapture theory of escape did not fit in with the very nature of God nor the principles by which He always operated.
Back to the Bible went thousands of Christians to examine again the biblical texts upon which that teaching had been supposedly based. Besides the texts I referred to above, people began to re-examine 1 Thessalonians 4, Matthew 24, Luke 17, Isaiah 26:20 and many other texts. Other references such as Matthew 25 about the ten virgins had been twisted all out of shape trying to make them look like they were saying that followers of Jesus were to be snatched off the earth at the Rapture.
One Taken And The Other Left….
To furnish you just one example among many about the way the Scriptures were mutilated by those straining to prove the Rapture theory, let us look at one example in Matthew 24. Here it tells us that at Jesus coming, “one shall be taken, and the other left.” Songs were written, and sermons were preached, to urge us to be ready to be “taken” when Jesus comes. When actually the Bible is saying the exact opposite. It was the wicked that were “taken” in Noah’s day, and the righteous were left to inherit the earth. So shall it be in the day of the coming of the Son of man. I encourage you to very carefully read Matthew 24: 37 – 41.
Again, who was taken in Noah’s day? The wicked! Will it be different now? No, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. That’s what the Bible says. And if there is still any doubt in your mind as to whether Christians will be “taken” when Jesus returns, please read Luke 17: 27. To be “taken” means to be destroyed by the judgments that are coming upon the earth. Do you still want to be taken?
A “Tornado” in Oklahoma
In April 1961, while living in the village of Carney, Oklahoma, I published a message on this subject entitled “One Shall Be Taken.” Although we had just a little over a thousand on our mailing list at that time, this message caused such an uproar and storm of protest from some quarters, that I thought I would have to hide in our storm cellar. Carney, Oklahoma was in “tornado alley,” after I published this message, and I thought I had been hit by a tornado. However, it opened the eyes of many sincere people, and made them realize that they had been duped and deceived by those who had twisted the Bible’s clear teachings to try to make it mean something it did not say.
By that time, with many sincere followers of Jesus it seemed that the “Rapture theory” had become a “sacred cow,” and to question this teaching or expose it as false was like attacking the blood of Jesus or the virgin birth or motherhood. Sincere, well-intended people almost got violent about it. Rumors started that I was dabbling in “New Age Spiritualism,” free-love,” or even devil worship. Who dared to “rupture” the “rapture?” I thank God that some followers of Jesus, however, cared more for truth than they did for their reputation! And the truth marched on!
Who Are The “Elect”?
In the early portion of Matthew 24, Jesus is teaching his disciples about the signs of His second coming and the end of this age. In verse 21 He speaks of the Great Tribulation, and in verse 22 He says that the “elect” [chosen ones; all truly born-again followers of Jesus are God’s chosen ones] will be here at that time. And in verse 24 He says that the false prophets and false Christs would try to deceive “the very elect.” Then in verses 29- 31 He outlines the sequence of events:
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not gives its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together his elect [chosen ones—followers of Jesus] from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
That seems to be plain and clear. But some have devised a scheme to get around these plain truths. They simply say that “the elect” are not followers of Jesus, but they are the Jews who are left here after the Rapture. All you have to do is refer to a good Bible concordance and read every biblical reference that mention the “elect” of God, and see who they are. For example, I refer you to Romans 8: 33, Colossians 3: 12, I Peter 1: 2 and Mark 13: 20, as just a few examples among many.
What Do We Do With 1 Thessalonians?
Good question. The answer is, I believe it and teach it. But I believe what it says, not the fables people have built around it. Turn with me now to I Thessalonians 4: 13 – 18. Read the entire context, and see the subject the writer is dealing with. He starts out by saying: “I would not have you to be ignorant, fellow followers of Jesus, concerning those who have fallen asleep [died].” So the subject matter in this portion of the Bible is what happens to those who have died, those who did not survive until the coming of the Lord Paul taught and wrote about. Will they miss out on the glory of that great, future Day of the Lord? Oh, no!
Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians chapter 5 that when followers of Jesus die, their mortal bodies go to one place and their immortal spirits [that component of their beings directly connected with God by means of Holy Spirit] return to God. Numerous other references throughout the Bible teach this plain truth about death. When we die, that immortal part of us that has eternal life (our spirit) is living and conscious when we go into His presence upon our death.
Our dead bodies, those mortal parts of us that cease to have life, sleep in the grave [or in the sea, or in the ashes of cremation, whatever….] Whether we are put into a tomb or grave, or cremated, or eaten by lions, or buried at sea makes no difference. When the spirit leaves the body, the body immediately “descends” into that state of death (lower parts of the earth, the grave), while the spirit “ascends” into God’s presence.
At the second coming of Jesus, the order is reversed. The physical body “rises” or ascends from the state of death, no matter whether it has become bones, dust, ashes, or food for the birds. Out of the state of death that physical body rises into a glorified state, like unto His “body of glory” (Philippians 3: 21). Meanwhile, not leaving the presence of God, but descending with Jesus back into this visible earth realm, the conscious, immortal spirit once again is joined to the body it left at death.
So Paul is attempting to comfort the hearts of the Thessalonian followers of Jesus about the fate of their loved ones who have died. He is not saying to them “Don’t worry, we shall see them someday up in heaven.” No, he is teaching that they will come back with Jesus for the great Day of the Lord and the events connected with that. Read on in 1 Thessalonians 4 and see that this is so. I can hear someone say: “Oh, I want to go to heaven someday and see Mother.” Well, don’t worry, dear one. If she is one of God’s elect, one of those who “sleep in Jesus” (verse 14), she is coming back here. Just stick around, and be prepared. Or, if you should happen to die before Jesus returns, you will be reunited with your loved ones in heaven an atomic second after you die!
Someone says, “Oh, I want to go to heaven and get my rewards.” In Revelation 22: 12 Jesus said, “And behold, I am coming quickly, and my reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.” Is there a heaven? Will we go there? Of course we will go to heaven! But what we are writing about in this article is the return of Jesus to this earth, and what happens at that time. I Thessalonians 4 says nothing about us being “caught away” to heaven. What it does say is that we who are alive and remain until His coming shall be “caught up.” And it does not say anything about us coming back down after we are caught up. Once I get caught into that realm of glory where Jesus is, don’t ever talk to me about descending back down into this life of mortality, sickness, aging, and death.
Many song writers have written that Jesus “is coming back to catch His waiting Bride away.” The Bible never says that. It never implies that the return of Jesus is to rescue His bride off this planet earth and take her to another geographical location somewhere beyond the universe where there are no battles or hide her from the face of the Antichrist! When the Bible speaks of being “caught up,” it is not speaking in terms of miles or light-years away. Please turn to 2 Corinthians 12: 1 – 4, and read it before reading any further in this teaching.
Where did this unnamed person [most teachers believe it was Paul himself] go? Physically, his body went nowhere. But he had an amazing experience. God took him into that realm of life known as Paradise, the third heaven. The first heaven corresponds to the first gate or entrance into the Old Testament Tabernacle in the wilderness (and later the Old Testament Temple) that brings us to the brazen altar (symbolic of Calvary). In Ephesians 1: 3 we read that God has blessed us with “every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ,…” That’s a heavenly “place,” dear reader. But you don’t have to get into an airplane or spaceship to get there. That “place” is “In Him, holy and without blame.” Yes, Calvary brings us into a heavenly place. This is the first heaven.
The second heaven corresponds to the second realm of the Tabernacle and Temple—the sanctuary—wherein were placed the candlestick and the golden altar of incense. When the Bible says in Ephesians 2: 6 that “[God] has raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” Paul is not teaching a physical ascent into the sky; he is teaching about a spiritual “ascent,” in Christ. The Baptism in Holy Spirit (and being continually filled with Holy Spirit—Ephesians 5: 18) brings us into a supernatural “heaven” in Christ. This is the second experience, the second heaven God has brought us to.
The Third Heaven
Paul had already ascended into the first two heavens with his salvation experience and with his “second work of grace,” the baptism and filling of Holy Spirit. Now he is teaching that God took him for a little while into that realm of life, that third heaven, which is our inheritance in Christ. Moffatt’s translation says “In the body or out of the body? I do not know. I simply know that in the body or out of the body (God knows which)” this man was caught up into paradise and heard sacred secrets which no human lips can repeat.
In this experience, it was not important to him to know whether or not his body went into that realm or place. Fourteen years after that phenomenal experience, Paul still suffered the afflictions of his mortal body. But he had been into that third heaven. He knows it is there. And if he has to lay his body down in death, he knows that it eventually has to come into that realm of glory also, by the resurrection power of Christ. Caught up into the heavenlies! The third heaven.
Which Way is Up?
Of course, your answer to that question would be to point over your head above you. But a person in Australia, or China, or Israel would say otherwise. If we all went “up” physically in relation to where we are, the people of earth would all be flying off in different directions. If you point up today at noon, then twelve hours later at midnight, the part of the universe you pointed to at noon would now be down, not up. Actually, this physical universe is so created so there is no such a place as “up” in the universe. We can go farther out from the earth, and send space ships to the moon, and Mars. But the earth is constantly turning, and so is the entire universe. That’s what causes day and night, summer and winter, for example.
We point at the clouds above us and say that is up. But to folks a few miles away, those clouds are not up, they are “down” over the horizon. Stratocumulus clouds range from ground level to 6,500 feet high, a little over a mile. Alto-cumulus clouds go from 6,500 feet up to 23,000 feet high (over 4 miles high). The cirrus and cirrocumulus clouds, the highest order of clouds, range from 16,500 to 45,000 feet high, up to about 9 miles high. While flying across the nation to California, I looked out of the plane window at the clouds below. We were high above all the clouds, with a vast sea of clouds below. I thought to myself that if those were the clouds Jesus appeared in or with, then I would have to be “caught down” instead of being “caught up.”
The Bible never says that Jesus returns “to” the clouds, or “on” clouds. It is very careful to tell us that He comes “in” the clouds, or “with” the clouds. Clouds of glory. Daniel 7: 13 says “with” the clouds of heaven. Does Heaven have clouds? Oh yes. Revelation 1: 7 also says that He comes “with” clouds. Matthew 24: 30, 26: 64, Mark 13 :26, 14: 62 and I Thessalonians 4: 17 all say “in” the clouds. Hebrews 12: 1 tells us that the past heroes of faith are a “cloud of witnesses.” Those Old Testament saints that have gone on to be with the Lord are a great cloud of witnesses. 2 Peter 2: 17 and Jude 12 both tell us that false teachers are like clouds carried away by storms.
Ecclesiastes 11: 3 says: “If clouds are full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth.” True teachings give life to others. They are willing to empty themselves in order to be a blessing to dry and thirsty people. True followers of Jesus pour out their lives for others—as Jesus did. The Old Testament teaches about a cloud of incense over the Mercy seat in the Holy of Holies, and says that is where God will appear. “I will appear in the cloud above the Mercy seat” (Leviticus 16: 2).
A Cloud Received Him
Acts 1: 11 is a reference some like to quote, and they say: “See, it says that as He went away, He shall come in like manner. And He left from that cloud and went up into heaven didn’t He?” No, He didn’t. Read it again: Acts 1:9 – 11.
“[Jesus] will come In like manner”… Some say that Jesus will come out of the sky and stop on a cloud where we will meet Him. But notice that in Acts 1 :9 He did not start from a cloud and ascend to outer space. He started from their visible presence on the earth, and, as He was rising, disappeared from view in a cloud, ascending by that means into heaven. Reverse the order, and we see Him appearing from out of a cloud and descending back into our visible presence where we can see Him and be with Him. Glory to God! “As He went”…”in like manner He will return”!
What Really Happens?
“…To meet the Lord in the air.” (1 Thessalonians 4: 17). Not meet Him up in the sky, or in outer space. But in the air. Air. The stuff we breathe [the atmosphere surrounding the earth]. It is all around us. It’s what there isn’t any of in outer space. When airplanes fly up above the clouds, they have to take their air with them in order to breathe. The Wuest translation of this text says we meet Him “in the lower atmosphere.”
But it will be in a much higher spiritual order. Caught up…Hallelujah! I like that. “…So shall we ever be with the Lord.” But aren’t we with Him now? In one sense, we are. But 2 Corinthians 5: 6 makes it plain that “While we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord.” But when we are “caught up,” our bodies are also involved in this ascent, so that we can be forever in the presence of the Lord in a way we cannot know now, and still have our body. A glorified, glorious body!
So the sum of what we have said is this: The old pre-Tribulation escape Rapture theory that originated with Margaret MacDonald in 1830, and now held by many millions of Christians, is false and contrary to scripture. Irving, Darby, Larkin, Scofield and many others since them have perpetuated a false theory based on faulty experience and information.
What will really happen is that Jesus will return with a sound of a trumpet. Now wherever the Bible speaks of a trumpet, it is sometimes a literal trumpet, but sometimes is symbolic of a message being proclaimed. Look up the word “trumpet” in any good Bible concordance. Many biblical texts confirm this. Trumpets sounded for each feast day in the Old Testament. And there is a message or “trumpet of restoration” that will serve to bring Jesus back to earth (Acts 3: 21).
And when He comes back, those followers of Jesus who come back with Him shall receive their bodies again that were laid down in death. Those bodies shall ascend or rise out of that state of death, into a glorious state of likeness to His body of glory. Then those who are still dwelling in their mortal bodies shall be “caught up” into that same place. This mortal shall put on immortality. Death shall be swallowed up in victory!
Then the children of God shall be “caught up to God and His throne.” (Revelation 12: 5) The manifestation (or unveiling) of the children of God takes place (Romans 8). The Jubilee trumpet of Leviticus 25 begins to sound. The Melchisedec priesthood passes through the veil into the Holy of Holies to be with their great High Priest, Jesus our Lord (Hebrews). Those whom He has made to be kings and priests begin to reign on this earth with Jesus, the King of kings, and Lord of lords. (Revelation 1: 6) The armies of heaven who follow Jesus on white horses, destroy Babylon, burn her with fire, and bind Satan with unbreakable chains (Revelation 19 and 20). All enemies begin to be put under the feet of Jesus and his Body, the Church, until every enemy has been destroyed, even death!
Whether or not you have faith to believe for these great things does not change their occurrences. For the performance of those things God has spoken does not depend upon our faith, and is not hindered by our unbelief. He has spoken, and He shall perform it. The age of death, sin, sickness, crime, hate, war, pain, darkness and rebellion is rapidly coming to an end. Doors are opening to a new age. The Kingdom is getting ready to be consummated on earth! Hallelujah! JESUS IS COMING SOON!
[NOTE from Bill Boylan: Bill Britton died in the 1980’s and his spirit is now with Jesus in heaven, awaiting its reunion with Bill’s body when Jesus returns. I have updated some of his pamphlet’s teachings and have done some editing on it just for better readability, but what you have just read is essentially the same as when it was first written by “Brother Bill.” I did not change any of his pamphlet’s essential meaning. If you want to compare his unedited version with this, my edited version, simply go to his family’s website noted below.
Since Bill Britton first wrote on this subject in the 1960’s, a large volume of materials have been written soundly refuting the Rapture Theory—including books, magazine articles, and scholarly essays and dissertations. But I wanted to include this original article by Bill Britton on my web site simply because it was one of the first to be written on the subject—in honor of “Brother Bill” Britton who was my personal friend. I look forward to a grand reunion with Bill when he returns with Jesus or when I die, whichever occurs first. To see that the controversy about the Rapture Theory has still not been resolved, simply go to any major internet search engine and type in the words “Rapture of the Church.” You’ll be amazed at what pops up—both pro and con about the Rapture theory.
Not everyone agrees with all my teachings on this web site; I wouldn’t expect them to. Some do. Some don’t. Not everyone agrees with all Bill Britton’s teachings. Some do. Some don’t. I don’t agree with all of them. But, I love Bill Britton and have deep respect for him. He has ministered to me personally in loving and gracious ways that nobody but God knows about—especially during the early 1970’s. To learn more about Bill, his family, and to read or obtain many of his writings, go to the web site his daughter has created in Bill’s memory.
Revised and Updated February 2023