THREE UNSCRIPTURAL INTERPRETATIONS

THREE UNSCRIPTURAL INTERPRETATIONS Copyright Š 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright Š 973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

Three passages of the Bible have been misinterpreted. Each of the three misinterpretations serves as a basis for the unscriptural "pre-tribulation rapture" of those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. If we look closely at each of the three passages, examining their immediate contexts and also thinking about related statements in the New Testament, we can see that the prevailing interpretations are without scriptural support.

Table of Contents

Luke 21:36 Revelation 3:10 I Thessalonians 4:13-17

THREE UNSCRIPTURAL INTERPRETATIONS

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (II Timothy 2:15—NIV)

Three passages of the Bible have been misinterpreted. Each of the three misinterpretations serves as a basis for the unscriptural "pre-tribulation rapture" of those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. If we look closely at each of the three passages, examining their immediate contexts and also thinking about related statements in the New Testament, we can see that the prevailing interpretations are without scriptural support.

Luke 21:36

Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man. (Luke 21:36—NIV)

The above verse is employed as a basis for the concept that at any moment the believers in Jesus Christ will be caught up from the earth to Heaven in order to escape Antichrist and the great tribulation. This is a common teaching in Christian churches.

When we superimpose on the verse a belief in the "rapture" it seems to be saying we shall be caught up to Heaven to escape suffering. But there is nothing in the verse itself or in the context that suggests a flight to Heaven. It just as easily could be referring to the Lord leading us to another place on the earth, as in the case of Lot. Or it could refer to our escaping harm, as in the case of Daniel in the lions’ den or the three Hebrew young men in Nebuchadnezzar’s oven.

In actuality, what it means, as we shall see in the context, is that we must pray in order to overcome the pressures of life on the earth so we may be able to stand before Christ in victory. The emphasis is on standing before Christ, not on escaping.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6:13—NIV)

Today we are saying that when the day of evil comes God will remove us from the earth. The Bible states that we are to put on the full armor of God so when the day of evil comes we may be able to stand in victory before Christ.

Notice the idea of standing in victory, in the following:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:35-7—NIV)

Trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, the sword—we are more than conquerors through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us think logically for a moment, before we turn to the context of Luke 21:36. From the beginning of the Christian Era the believers often have been subjected to much suffering. Even today as I am writing there are countries where Christians are being tortured, raped, and sold into slavery. Christians have suffered as much as it is possible to suffer.

Now, on what logical basis do we claim a special group of believers in the twentieth or twenty-first century will be removed from suffering? This makes no sense.

Let us turn at this time to Luke 21:36 and examine its context. In particular, let us see if there is any indication whatever that the Lord is speaking of carrying Gentile believers to Heaven so they will escape the problems of the last days.

From the very start we can see there is no support here for a pre-tribulation "rapture" as it is taught commonly.

The doctrine of the pre-tribulation rapture emphasizes that a Gentile church (the Scriptures make no mention of a "Gentile church") will be caught up to Heaven while a Jewish church, or kingdom, remains behind to suffer at the hands of Antichrist.

Yet the discourse of the Lord in Luke, Chapter Twenty-one, is directed toward Jewish people. Jesus was teaching some of His disciples, all Jews, at the Temple of Herod. This is the context of Luke 21:36. How then could we conclude reasonably that the Lord had suddenly switched over and referred to a Gentile Church being caught up to Heaven?

How could any devout Bible scholar possibly agree that Jesus had done this, that Luke 21:36 could reasonably be removed from its context and applied to a Gentile Church? This is not sound scholarship, as I see it.

Luke 21:8-36 is speaking of trouble coming upon the Jewish race, and the disciples are exhorted to pray that they will be able to escape from being harmed spiritually by the problems such that they can stand in victory before the Lord. It has nothing to do with Gentiles being carried up to Heaven to avoid suffering.

Because we have received the Lord Jesus we have become one with the Jewish elect who are being addressed in this chapter.

But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. (Luke 21:12—NIV)

Now notice the emphasis:

By standing firm you will gain life. (Luke 21:19—NIV)

How do we gain life? By standing firm. The emphasis is on standing firm. The same is true of the verse under discussion, Luke 21:36.

Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man. (Luke 21:36—NIV)

"By standing firm." "May be able to stand before the Son of Man." We gain eternal life by standing firmly in the midst of problems and pressures. We become more than conquerors through our Lord Jesus.

I think verse 34 is the key to our understanding of what the Lord meant by being able to escape all that is about to happen.

Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. (Luke 21:34—NIV)

The danger is not that we shall be physically harmed by the events of the last days, but spiritually harmed.

This is borne out in the following:

You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. (Luke 21:16-18—NIV)

Notice carefully: "They will put some of you to death." "Not a hair of your head will perish."

Isn’t it obvious the Lord disdains the power of physical death? "You may be martyred but not a hair of your head will perish."

This is referring to the resurrection of the believers, as in John 3:16: "Shall not perish but have everlasting life." We shall be raised again, so who cares if we are martyred?

This is what I mean by saying the Lord is not concerned about our escaping physical harm but spiritual harm.

Today the massive emphasis is on escaping physical harm. Meanwhile the believers have been destroyed by the dissipation, drunkenness, and anxieties of life that are corrupting our spiritual life in America.

It is not important that we escape suffering. What is important is that we are not harmed spiritually such that we cannot stand in victory before the Son of Man—now or in the world to come.

I think it likely that many of my readers will agree with me in this.

I believe Luke 21:36 has been misinterpreted. I believe further that the incorrect interpretation is misleading in that numerous believers are not putting on the whole armor of God because they do not think they will be here on earth during the evil day that is coming.

One person stated to a friend of mine that if he did not believe in a pre-tribulation rapture he would live differently. If this is the case with a significant number of the believers, then the doctrine of the pre-tribulation rapture will in the end be found to have been one of the most damaging errors of the Church Era.

If we will step back, as it were, and look at the entire twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, we will correctly understand verse 36. The Lord is speaking of the numerous tribulations that will come upon the Jewish people. Jesus is warning His disciples of the future tribulations and instructing them to watch and pray that they may be able to escape being harmed spiritually, and finally stand triumphantly before Him, having been through Him more than a conqueror.

The troubles set forth, dissipation, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life, can easily bring us down to spiritual defeat. I have seen it happen and you probably have also.

The Christian families facing the lions in the early days could readily have lost their faith in Christ and cursed God. This is the danger, not the fact that in a few moments these same families would be entering through gates of splendor into the Divine glory reserved for martyrs.

The widespread acceptance of the unscriptural "rapture" reveals clearly that today’s believers are far more concerned about their physical survival than they are their spiritual survival. History has shown that suffering purifies the faith of Christians. Today’s coddled believers view suffering only as a hindrance to their comfort, and are certain God would never let them be inconvenienced in any manner. Therefore He will hurry them off to Heaven so they will not be harmed. This is one of the major heresies of our day. We have been deluded because we do not love the truth.

From this point on we should be encouraging every believer to become strong in the Lord and in the power of His might so whatever comes upon us in the future will serve only to make our armor shine brighter.

The twenty-first chapter of the Book of Luke is speaking to Jews, as we have stated, preparing them for the tribulations ahead of them. There absolutely is no sound reason for Gentiles to be fastening on one of the Lord’s exhortations in this chapter and using it as a support for the mythical flight to Heaven of Gentile believers before the coming of the Lord.

The unscriptural doctrine of the "pre-tribulation rapture" of Christian people is classic error, and this should be obvious to us.

Revelation 3:10

Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. (Revelation 3:10—NIV)

The above verse is often employed to prove Christians will be carried up to Heaven so they will not be tested during the coming hour of trial.

The key to the correct interpretation is found in the meaning of the verbs "kept" and "keep." They actually are derived from the same Greek term.

Now, what is the meaning of the Greek verb which we translate as "kept" "keep"?

The same writer, John, uses the same verb in another writing.

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. (John 17:15—NIV)

Here we see the verb translated "protect."

Today’s proponents of the so-called pre-tribulation rapture translate the term as "remove."

The word actually means protect, or guard. Today it is translated as "remove."

Let us apply each of the two translations and see which one makes sense.

"Since you have removed my command to endure patiently, I will also remove you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth."

"Since you have guarded my command to endure patiently, I will also guard you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth."

Of the two, which makes sense to you. Since the same Greek verb is used, whatever we do to the Lord’s command to endure patiently is what the Lord will do to us during the hour of testing.

Either it is true that we remove the Lord’s command and He removes us, or else we guard the Lord’s command and He guards us.

Can you see that there is no basis in Revelation 3:10 for the unscriptural myth that the Lord will carry a special group of Gentiles to Heaven so they will not be harmed by the troubles of the last days?

There are many scriptural examples of God guarding the saints during the times of extreme trouble and testing, such as Noah and his family who rode on the very waters of judgment, protected perfectly by the Lord; or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the furnace; or Daniel in the den of lions. But I know of no scriptural example of the saints being carried to Heaven to avoid harm. Do you?

The Lord has commanded us to wait patiently for the Kingdom of God to come to earth, for the time of our redemption from the chains of the physical body. If we faithfully guard His commandment, being patient throughout the years of waiting, the Lord has promised to guard us during the time of testing.

Today many Christians, including pastors, are being drawn into the pornography presented on the Internet. Satan has managed to snare them because they have not been guarding the Lord’s command that we deny ourselves and patiently bear our cross behind Christ.

If we would escape being spiritually harmed by the calamities that shall come upon the earth in the last days we must patiently follow Jesus each day, especially when we are not being subjected to persecution or other kinds of suffering. It is during times of ease that we can be deceived by the Antichrist spirit, the spirit that teaches us we are our own god.

Let us repeat what the same writer, John, said in his Gospel account:

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. (John 17:15—NIV)

Jesus does not ask the Father to remove us from the world. We are the light of the world, the salt of the earth. It is here in the earth that we are needed. The Lord does not desire that we be removed from the earth.

What Christ does desire is that we be protected from the snares of Satan, and it is for this that He prays.

If we protect the word of Christ’s patience, then Christ will protect us from the evil one during the period of testing.

Make sense to you?

So far we have demonstrated, I think, that Luke 21:36 and Revelation 3:10 are being misinterpreted. They are being used as a support for the unscriptural, mythical flight of a "Gentile church" (an unscriptural term and concept) to Heaven in order to escape suffering. Let us turn now to the primary source of this myth and point out that it has nothing whatever to do with Gentiles being carried to Heaven to escape trouble.

I Thessalonians 4:13-17

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe Jesus died and rose again and so we believe God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (I Thessalonians 4:13-17—NIV)

When examining a passage of Scripture it is a good idea to stand back, as it were, and try to get a sense of what the Apostle is talking about. Many misunderstandings would have been avoided if those who presented their theories had considered the entire Bible, then the book they were examining, and then the immediate context of the verse or passage they were expounding.

The key to the meaning of the "rapture" passage is found in the opening verse:

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. (I Thessalonians 4:13—NIV)

Did Paul say anything here about escaping Antichrist or the great tribulation? Of course not. He was addressing living Christians who were concerned about their dead friends and relatives.

We are not to grieve like the heathen when a Christian dies. How in the world did we change this into a flight of believers to Heaven to avoid suffering? Isn’t this crazy?

This sort of error arises when we ignore the general sense of a passage and seek to support some notion of our own, some private interpretation of the Scripture.

We believe Jesus died and rose again and so we believe God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. (I Thessalonians 4:14—NIV)

The emphasis is on those whom God will bring with Jesus when He comes. My personal opinion, based on the people present on the Mount of Transfiguration (a preview of the Kingdom of God) is that all of the saints from the righteous Abel to the last victorious believer to die in Christ will return with the Lord Jesus.

Now consider: if I am correct in this, the returning saints will compose a huge number of people. Their descent from the level of the clouds to pick up their bodies from the ground will be a massive event, a happening that will astonish the wicked, causing them to cry out in anguish.

Did you ever hear a preacher of the "rapture" point out that the emphasis of I Thessalonians, Chapter Four is on the vast army of saints who will return with the Lord Jesus Christ? Probably not, because the "rapture" as it is preached today is an unscriptural myth.

The passage is not emphasizing the escape of persecuted believers but the return of Jesus Christ with His army to install His Kingdom on the earth.

According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. (I Thessalonians 4;15—NIV)

Again, do you see that the stress is on the dead believers? The point is, we who are alive on the earth when the Lord returns will not enter the Kingdom of God in advance of them. This was the concern of the living Thessalonian believers—that their dead relatives and friends would not be able to enter the Kingdom of God, because they had died before the Kingdom came. It is evident that the Thessalonians believed the Lord would come while they still were living. It is my opinion that Paul in the beginning also believed that the Lord would come in his lifetime.

This is hard for us to grasp because we have been taught that the goal of being saved is to enter Heaven. The Thessalonians had not been taught this by the Apostle Paul. They had been taught, rather, that the goal of being saved is to not be destroyed when the Lord returns but to enter joyfully into His Kingdom. Thus our doctrine today leaves quite a lot to be desired. It is time for a reformation of Christian thinking, particularly our thinking concerning the coming of the Lord from Heaven to set up His Kingdom of the earth.

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. (I Thessalonians 4:16—NIV)

We can tell from the description that this is referring to the beginning of the attack of Armageddon. The words used are suggestive of an invasion by an army, not a secret whisking away of a select group of Gentiles.

Look carefully at the expression "the dead in Christ will rise first."

The verb "will rise" does not mean rise into the air but rise from the dead; as when we say, "Christ rose from the dead." It has nothing to do with ascending into the air, not at this point.

Forty days elapsed between the raising of Christ from the dead and His ascension into Heaven. The same may be true of us.

The great, historic event, the climax of the Christian Age, the blessed hope of the Church, is not the ascension into the air, it is the resurrection from the dead. This is the destruction of the last enemy—physical death. This is the crowning act of redemption.

Of course, Satan is terrified at the thought of millions of saints of all ages being raised from the dead and clothed with the indestructible power of eternal life.

Do you honestly believe after God’s heroes of faith of all history have been raised from the dead and clothed with immortality they must be brought up to Heaven to escape Antichrist and the great tribulation? I do not believe such unscriptural nonsense. The truth is, they have just returned from Heaven, some of them having been there for thousands of years.

What a host will now be on the earth. Do you believe Antichrist could possibly harm them? Antichrist will be terrified. His knees will be knocking like castanets.

The dead in Christ will rise, and the light from them will shine from one end of the heavens to the other. This will be the greatest witness of God’s Person, will, way, and eternal purpose in Christ ever to be presented on the earth.

After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (I Thessalonians 4:17—NIV)

Now we come to the catching up. The saints alive on the earth at this time will be clothed with immortality and caught up together with the newly raised saints of history. We will not be caught up to avoid the hour of testing because we already are immortal and cannot be harmed in any manner. It is the resurrection that keeps us safe, not the catching up. Can you see that clearly?

Notice that we meet the Lord in the air. Nothing whatever is stated about the Lord returning to Heaven. Nothing whatever is stated about our returning with the Lord to Heaven. The idea that the Lord Jesus will come down to the level of the clouds, send the deceased saints down to reclaim their bodies, and then bring them and us back to Heaven is not stated anywhere in the Scriptures. Not anywhere! Not one time anywhere!

We are not caught up to return with the Lord to Heaven but to meet the Lord at His return. After we are caught up the wrath of God will be poured on the earth. Did you ever go to the airport or train station to meet someone?

The wrath of God is different from the great tribulation. Tribulation works to perfect us. Wrath, however, is not redemptive. It does not make perfect, only destroys. We Christians enter the Kingdom of God through much tribulation. But God has not appointed us to wrath. There is an enormous difference between tribulation and wrath. We can think of tribulation as chastening that is needed for our good.

We have seen, then, that Luke 21:36 is not speaking of escape from physical harm by being carried up to Heaven but escape from spiritual harm by standing firm in Christ.

We have observed also that Revelation 3:10 has nothing to do with being caught up to Heaven but is referring to the Lord protecting us throughout the period of testing so we do not succumb spiritually to the pressures and available sins.

Finally we notice that the "rapture passage," I Thessalonians 4:13-17 has nothing to do with believers escaping trouble by being caught up to Heaven but is speaking rather of the resurrection from the dead of the saints of all history, and our entering the Kingdom of God together with them.

It is my point of view that these three misinterpretations are destructive. I have heard of some Christians who, because of their belief in the any-moment "rapture," strive to live godly lives in order to be prepared.

I do not think such has been the average response. I believe most Christians would live differently if they understood that their protection from evil will not be an escape by "rapture" but an escape by being so filled with the Presence of God and Christ that they are more than conquerors in the midst of every calamity.

As it is written, "We who are God’s people are treated as sheep for the slaughter." Christians have endured every form of testing and temptation from the arenas of Rome to the comforts of twentieth-century America. All of Satan’s devices are designed to tear us down, if possible, from our high place in Christ at God’s right hand.

You and I are going to suffer tribulations and afflictions, just as did the Apostle Paul. You can count on it. But the Ninety-first Psalm will hold true from now until the Lord returns. Heaven and earth shall pass away but the Ninety-first Psalm shall never pass away.

God’s Word shall hold true, an anchor during the vicious storms and currents of life on earth. These storms and currents are all designed to purify our faith until it is as refined gold. Problems and sufferings form us in the image of Christ if we respond to them with prayer and faith, and do not become bitter against the tools God uses.

The "escape by rapture" is a destructive doctrine. It turns our attention away from our need for spiritual growth and points us toward what we imagine to be the saving of our personality by carrying it to Heaven. The Christian plan of salvation is not designed to save our life. It is designed to crucify our life so we may be born again in the Life of Jesus Christ.

The "rapture" is a manmade plan to save our life. But the Scripture teaches that if we try to save our life we will lose it.

Our concern is not whether the catching up comes before or after the tribulation. This concern is only theological wrangling. The things, personages, and dynamics of the spirit realm are real and occur independently of our beliefs and so there is no point in arguing our beliefs. If our beliefs do not lead us to Jesus Christ and produce a new righteous creation in us, then our beliefs are of no value whatever in the Kingdom of God.

Our concern is with the spiritual maturity of God’s people. When they view the catching up as an imminent event that will prevent their suffering they are not oriented correctly to God’s plan of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. A careful study of the New Testament will reveal that suffering plays a valuable role in our redemption. Suffering is a chastening that we might become holy. It is associated with our becoming rulers because suffering destroys our self-will, our rebellion against God.

Also, suffering purifies us from sin.

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. (I Peter 4:1,2—NIV)

The purpose of the great tribulation is to examine the peoples of the earth in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom.

Let us prepare ourselves for the fiery trials designed to examine the strength and purity of our faith. Let us resolve to lose our life in Christ Jesus that we may save it in Him. It does not matter what catastrophes overtake us in the earth. If we will keep our attention focused at all times on our Lord, He will give us all the wisdom and strength we need to surmount every problem, every pain, and finally stand in triumph before Him that we may receive His "well done."

Isn’t the scriptural promise of protection and survival really superior to that which the fleshly nature of man has devised?

For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (II Timothy 4:3—NIV)

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39—NIV)