Thursday, April 5, 2012

"At His coming..."

I listened to a message by a grace teacher regarding I Corinthians 15:23-24, and I would like to get your opinion on the timing in these verses and whether or not it excludes the possibility of a pre-trib rapture.

1 Corinthians 15:23-24
But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.  Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.

He is saying that in context this passage means that the next resurrection that occurs after Christ the firstfruits (the Rapture) has to be at the end of the Tribulation 'at his coming:'

1) because an appearance in the clouds cannot be described as a coming/arrival (this coming/arrival can only describe when Christ returns to the earth and his feet actually touch the Mt. of Olives, and because

2) Verse 24 starts with 'then cometh the end,' which can only mean that the coming in verse 23 must be the second coming immediately followed by 'the end.'  So the rapture, the second coming and the end have to basically all happen at the same time.

In other words, this is a post-trib rapture supported by the fact that the timing of verses 23 and 24 won't allow for any gap of time between the three events described.  Does scripture support this interpretation, or can 'at his coming’ describe his coming for us in the clouds at a pre-Trib Rapture?

I appreciate your asking for my opinion through scripture about the timing of these verses.  What you’re going to see, even among grace teachers (and I've known brothers who have done this), is a departure from distinct Pauline truth – the rapture in particular.   It seems like our brother is not dividing prophecy from mystery.  When we study Paul’s epistles, we are to assume that he is talking about something unique and distinct to the dispensation of grace.  We are to divide truth from truth.

When Paul talks about the end, we can assume that he is talking about the end of the dispensation of grace/mystery and the Rapture, unless he tells us otherwise.

1 Thessalonians 4:13

But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.

Paul is talking about the death of the grace believer and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  What I found most disturbing about what you communicated that this grace believer is saying, is that ‘at his coming’ has to mean Christ’s return to the earth in prophecy after the 70th Week of Daniel (the tribulation) to set up his earthly kingdom.  The rapture is something the Satan likes to attack.  We need to always keep our verse in 2 Timothy in mind:

2 Timothy 2:15

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth

If you look at the context in 1 Corinthians 15, the issue is the timing of the rapture.

2 Timothy 2:16-18

But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.  And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; [Now watch what these two preachers did…] Who concerning the truth have erred, [so they made an error about the truth of the resurrection] saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.

Hymenaeus and Philetus got the timing of the resurrection (the Rapture) wrong.  They put it too soon; but I’m seeing now that people put it too late.  Some who call themselves grace preachers are now saying that it’s going to be in the middle of the tribulation or even at the end like the preacher you are referring to.

It’s interesting, because don’t they understand that this issue of the rapture of the body of Christ is part of the mystery program – part of this dispensation of grace, a distinction given to Paul alone? 

The rapture, the resurrection of the body, will be pre-wrath, pre-tribulation and pre-prophecy.  God won’t even resume his prophetic program until the Body is raptured.  He can’t.  At the rapture, the Lord Jesus Christ must perform the Judgment Seat of Christ.  But at His coming on the earth, he’s going to Israel and the nations.  Our judgment will already be complete.

In other words, before the prophetic clock resumes, God is going to resurrect the body of Christ.  But the timing of the rapture is still an issue, as it was in Paul’s day.  Let’s put it right where it is supposed to be.

Regarding the issue of ‘at his coming,’ when you look at the Apostles Paul’s books, it’s so simple.  The term ‘at his coming’ is not exclusively associated with the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to the earth and his feet actually touching the Mount of Olives.  Paul uses this term throughout his epistles.  Let’s look at some verses that prove that the Rapture cannot be after the tribulation period (the wrath to come).  Look at how Paul uses the words ‘come’ and ‘coming’:

Matthew 3:7

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

1 Thessalonians 1:10

And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.

How is he going to do that?  He is going to take us out of here.

1 Thessalonians 5:9

For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,

God has an appointment of wrath with the nation of Israel in prophecy – not with the body of Christ.

Romans 5:8-10

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.  For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

So he has not appointed us to wrath; we’re delivered from the wrath to come (the tribulation period).  The way he will do that is with the Rapture.

Let’s look at 1 Corinthians – the same book that this preacher used to support his view of ‘at his coming.’

1 Corinthians 1:6-8

Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:  So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:

He is not talking about the end of the tribulation period when the Lord will set up his kingdom; he’s talking about the rapture for the body of Christ.

Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

‘The end’ is the end of this dispensation when he takes us home.  The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, the end, and the day of our Lord Jesus Christ are all used in regard to the rapture.

So Paul is definitely talking about the rapture.  He is using the same terminology that he will use in 1 Corinthians 15.

1 Corinthians 4:5

Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.

Paul is talking about the day of the rapture and the Judgment Seat of Christ.

And regarding the Lord’s Supper:

1 Corinthians 11:26

For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.

That would also be at the Rapture.

1 Thessalonians 2:19

For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?

First Thessalonians chapter 1 in particular is dealing of the issue of the Lord Jesus Christ coming to deliver us from the wrath to come.

1 Thessalonians 3:13

To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.

1 Thessalonians 4:15

For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.

Over and over Paul uses the terminology ‘the coming of our Lord’ not in reference to the Prophetic coming when his feet touch the Mount of Olives and he establishes his earthly kingdom, but to the Rapture.  This is the simplicity that is in Christ; we shouldn't make it complex. 

1 Thessalonians 5:23

And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Thessalonians 2:1

Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,

Here he is telling us that he is coming to gather us.  This is the same thing he tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

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.

He’s saying that he’s going to come and we’re going to gather to Him.  When we study Paul’s epistles, we are to assume that he is talking about something unique and distinct to the Dispensation of Grace.  An exception is 2 Thessalonians in which Paul is dealing with the future 70th week of Daniel, the time of Jacob’s trouble.  It’s called Jacob’s trouble, not the Body’s. 

You correctly pointed out that Paul would have instructed us somewhere in his 13 books that we would be going through that time of trouble and how to get through it in the same way that the Lord taught his disciples in the four Gospels.  Paul never tells the Body of Christ that we will go through the tribulation or gives us instructions on how to endure it.  In fact he tells us that God has not appointed us to wrath; we’re delivered from the wrath to come.

2 Thessalonians 2:8-9

And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: [He is talking here about the second coming of the Lord to earth to destroy the Antichrist.] Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, [Here he also uses the word ‘coming’ to describe the action of the Antichrist.] 

So the use of the word ‘coming’ depends on the context.  Paul could be talking about the Lord at the Rapture, his second coming to Israel, or he could be talking about the Antichrist and his kingdom.

Christ received his physical, glorified body as the firstfruit of them which sleep.  He was the first to be resurrected.

Philippians 3:20-21

For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:  Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.

Now let’s look at the passage you asked about in 1 Corinthians 15 in which Paul is dealing with the physical resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and all who are in Christ.  Paul’s focus is on the body of Christ.  We’re going to have the same glorified, resurrected body he has.

1 Corinthians 15:23-24

But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming (cf,1 Thess. 4:16-17).

Here in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul is dealing with the type of body we will have when the Lord comes for us and how that will happen.  Let’s assume that the ‘coming’ is the Rapture (consistent with 1 Cor. 1:7-8), unless he tells us otherwise.

Then cometh the end,

The end of what?  The same end as in 1 Corinthians 1:8—the end of this present Dispensation.  When Paul wrote to the members of the Body in Corinth, why would he begin his epistle to a group of carnal Grace believers who reject Paul’s doctrine by immediately discussing the Kingdom program?  The whole theme of Corinthians is the wisdom of God in the Mystery.

1 Corinthians 2:7

But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:

Paul is telling them that God gave them his Spirit so they would know these things; stop listening to other men—‘I am your apostle.’  He begins his epistle talking about ‘the coming’ and ‘the end’; the end being the end of the dispensation of grace.  Paul is teaching them how to be grace believers, not how to be Israel.

Back to 1 Corinthians 15:24

 …when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.

 What authority and power is Paul talking about?

 2 Timothy 4:18

And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom [the kingdom in the heavenly places that the Body of Christ was created for]: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Paul is summarizing what will happen:  the Rapture (our gathering together to be with the Lord); the Judgment Seat of Christ; and then his giving of us to the Father.  ‘All rule and all authority and power’ does not have to do with the earth.  That won’t happen until He establishes the kingdom.  He is talking here about the heavenly kingdom.

Philippians 2:10

That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;

 Ephesians 6:12

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Colossians 2:15

And having spoiled [heavenly] principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.

Ephesians 1:20-21

Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,  Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come:

Colossians 1:15-16

Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:

Notice the issue of all rule and authority and power in the heavenly places that Paul talks about in these passages.  The Body of Christ will take over those positions, so that is Paul’s focus.

1 Corinthians 15:25-26

For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.  The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

That is the issue.  Death is destroyed.  When is death destroyed for the church, the body of Christ?  At the Rapture.  That’s why when Paul discusses this information he isn't being exclusive to the return of Christ to the earth because death is destroyed for you and me at the Rapture.

Where I do agree with the brother is that this principle is applicable to the second coming of Christ to this earth because eventually there will be a time when death will be abolished forever – first for the nation of Israel during the first installment of the Kingdom (the millennium), and then for everyone after the GWTJ  (Revelation 21:4).

But Paul’s focus is the dispensation of grace.  How do we know that?  Paul is going to talk about our bodies:

1 Corinthians 15:51-55

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We [the body of Christ] shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,  In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump:

This is the trump of 1 Thessalonians 4:16.  He will blow it twice:  the first time for ‘the dead in Christ’; the second time for ‘we which are alive and remain.’

… for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.   For this corruptible [the dead in Christ] must put on incorruption, and this mortal [those subject to death – those who are alive and remain] 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?

That is when the enemy of death will be destroyed:  at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ for the church, the body of Christ, at the rapture. 

Hopefully this helps! 

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