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The Rapture and the Fullness of the Times

To tell a complete story, one must always include the five w’s: who, what, when, where, and why - not necessarily in that order. The ‘what,’ in this article, is the Rapture of the Church. Most serious students of biblical eschatology know what the Rapture is, and even most non-believers have heard of it. They also know ‘who’ will be involved in the great “catching up,” which of course includes only true Christians. The ‘where’ is very obvious, as Paul explains in 1 Thessalonians 4:17: “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air.” The ‘why’ is explained in various New Testament scripture which will be discussed throughout this article. Only the ‘when’ remains a secret.


The Bible doesn’t give us any specific time or date for this spectacular supernatural event, but perhaps there are a few clues we can glean about its timing. The Rapture is said to be ‘imminent,’ which means it could happen at any time and there are no signs or events that have to precede it. The only clear indication of the timing of the Rapture is that it will occur before the tribulation of God’s wrath upon the earth and mankind. How much time transpires before these two events is unknown.

Only the pre-tribulation view can give full, literal meaning to such an any-moment event. Other rapture views must redefine imminence more loosely than the New Testament would allow. The exhortation to look for the glorious appearing of Christ for His own (Titus 2:13) loses its significance if the Tribulation occurs first. Believers, in that case, should look for signs. If the pre-trib. view of imminence is not accepted, then it would make sense to look for signs related to events of the tribulation (i.e., the anti-Christ, the two witnesses, etc.) and not for Christ Himself. But the New Testament, as demonstrated above, uniformly instructs the church to look for the coming of Christ, while tribulation saints are told to look for signs.” {1}


THE DAY OF THE LORD


Coming immediately after Paul’s revelation concerning the rapture of the church, it is natural to want to know when this will occur. In 1 Thess. 5:1-11, the apostle does not give times and dates but instead speaks on a much larger doctrine of scripture, the day of the Lord. The day of the Lord is a time of special divine visitation from the Lord mentioned often in both the Old and New Testaments. Paul declared, “But of the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction comes upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape” (1 Thes. 5:3).


So why does Paul start speaking about the day of the Lord immediately after his revelation of the Rapture? The answer is: the Rapture is the start of the day of the Lord. Like a thief in the night, who comes without warning, the Rapture will occur and the day of the Lord will begin.


“The future period of God’s intervention in the world will begin at the Rapture and will include the period of trouble preceding the 2nd coming of Christ and the establishment of God’s kingdom in the earth. The day of the Lord also includes the millennial kingdom. The entire period before and after the 2nd coming of Christ will constitute a special divine intervention and rule of righteousness on the earth in a way that is not being experienced in the present age. The teaching that the day of the Lord does not begin until the 2nd coming is refuted by the fact that it includes the great tribulation. Joel made it clear that the day of the Lord included the great tribulation before the 2nd coming (Joel 2:28-3:2). The time of restoration of Israel (Joel 3:16-21) following the great tribulation is related to the 2nd coming and will be fulfilled in the millennium.” {2}


1 Thes. 5:3 refers to the start, middle, and end of the 7-year Tribulation. “Peace and safety” refers to the start of the Tribulation when the Antichrist confirms a 7-year covenant with Israel and the many. “Sudden destruction” comes upon Israel and the elect when the Antichrist breaks the covenant at the mid-point of the covenant (3.5 years) and persecution of the Jews begins. Israel will not escape their Great Tribulation until Jesus returns at His 2nd Coming.


However, the Lord has other plans for His church, “For God has not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him” (1 Thes. 5:9-10).


In 2 Thes. 2, Paul is writing another letter to the church at Thessalonica. In response to a mistaken belief (by false teachers who were spreading “fake news” (some things never change) that the day of the Lord had already begun. The church was being persecuted at this time, so it is easy to see how they could fall for this lie. This alarmed the Thes. church because they had understood Paul to say they would not be in this time of trouble because they would have been raptured before it began. The Thessalonians thought they had missed the Rapture because they weren’t really saved.


Paul wrote, “Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him (at the Rapture), we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come” (2 Thes. 2:1-2). Paul had to remind the Thessalonians about the chronological order of the day of the Lord. “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (2 Thes. 2:3-4).


The “falling away” are the English words used in the King James (and New K.J.) translation of verse 3. The Greek word is ‘aposasia’ and means apostasy, rebelling, or departure. The root word from which it comes, ‘aphistemi,’ means to withdraw or remove. There are two thoughts on what this falling away or departure means in relation to the timing of the day of the Lord. The first thought is that there will be a great falling away or departure from the faith in the Lord before the Antichrist is revealed.


The second thought is that the falling away/departure will not be spiritually but physically, as in the rapture of the Church. Those who claim that the falling away is the Rapture believe that these verses back it up: “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:7-8). The “He who restrains” is the 3rd Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. He will be restrained or taken out of the way when the church is raptured.


THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE RAPTURE TO THE TRIBULATION


Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica is proof he taught a pretribulation Rapture. The Tribulation (Day of the Lord/Jacob’s trouble/ Daniel’s 70th seven) comes on the heels of the Rapture. There is only a small gap of time between the two biblical events. How much time? Nobody knows. Maybe a few months or a few years would be my guess. The Thessalonians believed they were in the Day of the Lord because of great persecution, as have many people throughout history.

However, the Day of the Lord is an end-time event, which means the Rapture is as well. You can’t have the Rapture occurring hundreds of years before the last week of Daniel’s 70th week. What would become of the Christians that come afterward and especially those in the age before the Tribulation? There would be no escape (rapture) for them from the wrath of God. These verses would then have no meaning: “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). “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). These are clear hints that the Church will be delivered from the end-times judgment by the pre-tribulation Rapture and they are only separated by a small amount of time.

Regarding Enoch’s rapture, most students and scholars of the Bible believe it is a typology of the Church’s rapture. I agree it is similar in the fact that God ‘took’ him because of his faith. “By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, and was not found, because God had taken him; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:5-6).

However, it is not similar in that the reason for his rapture was to escape the wrath of God (the great flood). Enoch was taken 669 years before the flood came. He was never in any danger of the wrath of God (great flood) as he would have died before it ever came. He would have been over 1000 years old at the time of the flood. The only reason the Bible mentions that he was taken is that he pleased God with his faith and God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. I think the same could be said of the Hebrew prophet, Elijah. For an excellent article regarding the differences in these raptures, see Mark Becker’s article, https://raptureready.com/2022/06/19/instantly-changed-and-caught-up-by-mark-a-becker/.

The Rapture may not have any signs preceding it, but the Tribulation does, as described in Jesus’ Olivet discourse found in Luke 21: 7-19, Matthew 24:3-14, and Mark 13:3-13. So when you see these signs converging in ever-increasing numbers, you know the Tribulation is close and the Rapture is even closer. I believe these signs are taking place as we speak.

THE FULLNESS OF THE TIMES


In Ephesians 1, Paul speaks about the mystery of Christ’s will, “according to His good pleasure which He purposed to Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him” (Ephesians 1:9-10). These are Rapture verses speaking about the translation and rapture of the dead in Christ (which are in heaven) and the living in Christ (on the earth). These two verses speak on the “who, why, and when” of the Rapture. The who are the dead and living in Christ. The ‘why’ is “according to His good pleasure.” God will do whatever He wants and whenever He wants. The ‘when’ is “in the dispensation of the fullness of the times.” All we have to figure out is when that is!


Jesus’ First Advent


Just as it was concerning the time of Christ’s first coming, the conditions on the earth will be perfectly aligned for Bible prophecy to find its complete fulfillment. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). What was this fullness of the times Paul was referring to regarding the first advent of Jesus the Christ? The ideal conditions for the appearance of the Messiah would be: 1) a common language that most people could understand. 2) for civilization to be advanced enough to record historical events that intertwine with biblical ones. 3) an appetite for the word of God by a true prophet instead of a religion of rules, regulations, and rituals. 4) good roads for traveling and spreading the gospel of Christ. 5) the approaching time of Daniel’s 69th week (seven) as mentioned in Daniel 9:25-26. This prophecy of 69 weeks/sevens terminates at the Messiah’s death. Jesus died in approximately 3992 A.M. (Anno Mundi – year after creation), 8 years shy of 4000 years (or 4 days for the Lord) of mankind.


In my article, The Greatness of the New Testament (based on Hal Lindsey’s 1997 book Apocalypse Code) (https://www.raptureready.com/2020/09/15/the-greatness-of-the-new-testament-by-randy-nettles/), I related how the Greek king and warrior, Alexander the Great created a new language, which he used in his campaigns against the Persians. This was one of the ideal conditions regarding the fullness of the times for the Messiah’s first advent.


Since the five tribes of Greece spoke in five dialects, Alexander, knowing that exact communication was essential in battle, fused together the best of the dialects and made one common language. This he did himself. His natural genius – plus the teaching of Aristotle, who above all was a brilliant linguist – enabled him to create a precise language for communicating exact thought. This dialect was named Koine Greek, which means “common Greek.” Alexander commanded all the tribes to learn “the common language.”


Of course, we know Alexander defeated the might Persian Empire and most of the known world. During these battles and afterward, roads were built throughout the regions that Alexander conquered and then ruled. And once again, in an extraordinary way, Alexander had unknowingly fulfilled another part of Daniel’s 200-year-old prophecy about his sudden conquest and takeover of Persia, the second world empire. The year was 331 BC.


The Persian empire fell at Alexander’s feet. Instead of making them slaves and treating them cruelly, he required them only to embrace the Greek culture and language. For the most part, he made friends with them. This too was a fulfillment of God’s providential use of him. Unwittingly, Alexander was being used to accomplish God’s purpose by making Line Greek the lingua franca of the known world.

Even Rome (the fourth empire) would not be able to change the universal language. When the remains of the Greek empire were taken over by the Romans, everyone continued to use Greek as the language of business, trade, and international communication.


So when Jesus the Messiah came and purchased a pardon for the sin of all mankind by his death, the infinitely valuable message about it was entrusted to none other than Alexander’s creation – Koine Greek. The original manuscript of the New Testament was written in this Common Greek and could be rapidly spread among the Gentiles. Why? Because in the providential working of God, Alexander had made it possible for them to understand.”


Alexander was the tool God used to set up the ideal conditions for the Messiah to come and for his message to be able to spread throughout the known world. Even the Jews knew Jesus was a prophet (they hadn’t had one for 400 years). They just didn’t realize he was their long-awaited Messiah and king. And as usual, the Jews didn’t listen to their prophet and had him killed. They also didn’t realize this was God’s plan all along. The conditions for the fulfillment of the times of the coming of the Messiah were ideal during the age of Roman rule after Alexander had defeated the Persians and created a universal language. Major transportation routes were built during this time and allowed the disciples of Jesus to fulfill their evangelical “great calling.”


The Fullness of the Times During the Rapture


In Ephesians 1, Paul speaks about the mystery of Christ’s will, “according to His good pleasure which He purposed to Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him” (Ephesians 1:9-10). These are Rapture verses speaking about the translation and rapture of the dead in Christ (which are in heaven) and the living in Christ (on the earth). These two verses speak on the “who, why, and when” of the Rapture. The who are the dead and living in Christ. The ‘why’ is “according to His good pleasure.” God will do whatever He wants and whenever He wants. The ‘when’ is “in the dispensation of the fullness of the times.”


Once again, the ‘when’ is a mystery. What is the dispensation of the fullness of the times? Perhaps Paul is speaking about the fullness of the times, as in the time before the end of this age. It’s been 1989 years (nearly 2000 years or 2 days for the Lord) since Jesus ascended back to heaven and the Church was born. The dispensation of the age of the Church is about over and the start of Daniel’s (interrupted) 70th seven is soon to begin. After the Rapture, God will once again be focusing His attention on Israel. God’s wrath will come upon His chosen people (Jacob’s trouble) after they confirm the covenant with the anti-Christ instead of them remembering their covenant with Him. God’s wrath will also fall upon a Christ-rejecting world. However, there will be a remnant of both Jews and Gentiles who come to faith in Christ during the Tribulation. Some will even live until the end and will enter Jesus’ millennial kingdom to repopulate the earth.


It appears that this is the age of deciding whether to do the will of God or not. What is the will of God? To believe in the one He sent, Jesus Christ. 2022 is the year of division. The number 2 represents ‘division’ in the Bible. We are divided on everything these days: politics, gender, sexuality, religion, crime, abortion, immigration, speech, and governmental rule. We are divided on whether to do right or wrong, love or hate, kill or save, speak the truth or lie, choose between God or Satan, Jesus or the world, righteousness or sin, Republicans or Democrats, conservative or liberal philosophies, fiscal responsibility or reckless spending, charity or selfishness, safe borders or open borders, national sovereignty or world government.


Paul’s mention of the fullness of times could be referring to a pre-tribulation time before God’s wrath rains down on the unbelieving world. This could be similar to Jesus’ discussion with his disciples at the Mount of Olives when he said, And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so, it will be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:26-30).


It was definitely the fullness of the times for the antediluvians of Noah’s age and for the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah of Lot’s age. It was the end of the world for most of these people. However, according to God’s good pleasure, He allowed a remnant to survive these catastrophes. Noah and his family obeyed the word of God and took shelter in the ark that they had built. The ark is a typology of the Rapture, and by God’s grace, they escaped the wrath of God. Likewise, Lot and his daughters escaped God’s wrath that He poured on the evil inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah by listening to the angels sent by God. The angels are a typology of the Holy Spirit urging the inhabitants of the earth to accept the Word of God as their savior and Lord before it is too late. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and by obeying the Word of God, we can escape the great wrath of God by means of the Rapture.


THE FULLNESS OF SIN


Perhaps Paul is also referring to the fullness of sin of this age. Once again Jesus spoke of this fullness of sin in both Noah and Lot’s time. Regarding Noah’s time, “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). Regarding Lot’s time, “And the Lord said, Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know” (Genesis 18:20-21). I believe this current age of man’s sinfulness is getting close to being only evil continually (especially Democrats and those who believe in murdering babies) and is very grave indeed. There are no Democratic women in the U.S. House of Representatives who oppose abortion rights. Does this tell you anything about our elected leaders and those who elected them? It appears God has given them over to a reprobate mind.


When sin reaches its zenith (fullness) in different civilizations, God’s judgment soon follows. There have been many examples of this “fullness of sin” and ensuing judgment in mankind’s history, as recorded in the Bible and the annals of history. Before judgment descends, God will send his word as a warning to the ungodly citizens. In biblical times, this word/warning came in the form of a prophet of God. Nowadays it comes by way of modern Bereans (those learned in scripture) or a “watchman on the wall” who warn the people about the approaching danger of the times due to rebellion against God. The final warning before the Tribulation begins will be the Rapture. It will be the ultimate sign of God’s coming judgment upon the earth before Jesus’ 2nd Advent.


W.F. Adeney, the great theologian and Bible scholar of the late 19th and early 20th century, had this to say about the fullness of sin:


There is a fullness of sins which brings its own penalty. When sin reaches this point, the penalty can no longer be stayed. The cup once full flows over in wrath and ruin. It is as though forbearance and guilt were in the scales. When guilt is full, the balance dips. There is an end to all possible long-suffering. The more men go on in excesses of sin, the faster they approach the inevitable day of reckoning. The sooner the sin is filled up to the measure which passes endurance, the sooner must the stroke of doom fall.


Fullness of sins must lead to fullness of punishment. They who fill up their sins always will have the wrath come upon them to the uttermost. The worst debtor must be made to pay the last farthing. The swifter the rush downhill, the greater the crash at the bottom. The more tares that are sown in spring, the more bundles to burn in the harvest. He who fills the present life with sins will have the next life filled with wrath.


The fullness of sins is not the amount which God predestines to be committed, for God is not the author of sin, nor does he will or permit it. This fullness is the measure beyond which God stays the evil from proceeding. When the tide of iniquity, driven onwards by rebellious powers, reaches this fullness, God says, Here shall thy proud waves be stayed, and the storm beats itself out in impotent fury.” {3}


THE FULLNESS OF THE GENTILES


The “coming in” of the fullness of the Gentiles is mentioned in Romans 11:25. “For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.This should not be confused with the fulfillment of the times of the Gentiles spoken of in Luke 21:24. “They (Israel) will fall by the edge of the sword and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” The verse in Romans is in reference to the coming of Jesus in the clouds at the Rapture, while the Luke verse refers to the 2nd Coming of Jesus to the earth after the Great Tribulation.


Many Bible scholars believe the fullness of the Gentiles mentioned in verse 25 refers to the Rapture. They conclude that when a certain number of believers in Jesus Christ has been reached, then the Rapture will occur. Nobody knows what that number is except God. Therefore the date of the Rapture is unknowable by anyone except Elohim. “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (Matthew 24:36).


Here’s how the late great Bible teacher Jack Kelley interprets this verse: “The phrase fullness (full number) of the Gentiles doesn’t mean each and every Gentile, but only those who are part of a group that will arrive at its scheduled destination before the blindness is lifted. It’s a nautical term meaning when a ship has a full crew, then, and only then, it will set sail. This is a reference to the rapture of the Church, which will contain a specific number of members. When that full number has been reached, we’ll be taken from earth to our place in my father’s house to be with the Lord.”


Likewise, John F. Walvoord, who served as a faculty member, president, and chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary for more than half a century, wrote this regarding these verses in Romans: “The outworking of God’s present calling out both Jew and Gentile on an equal basis to form the body of Christ was not anticipated in the Old Testament. Its major features were mysteries, that is, truths that were not revealed in the Old Testament but are revealed in the New Testament.


“The background of this is the New Testament doctrine of the rapture of the church. When the church is taken out of the world in fulfillment of God’s purpose for the church, Israel’s present experience of hardening (blindness) will also be removed, and revival will come to Israel. Their early conversion to the gospel will help spread the gospel throughout the world after the rapture of the church as there are Israelites in every major nation who already know the languages and the people. The fulfillment predicted in Romans 11:25-27 is in keeping with the Abrahamic covenant, which promises that Israel will endure as a nation forever and that the Israelites ultimately will be restored spiritually and to their land politically.” {4}


In Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, he writes about our (brothers in Christ) citizenship in heaven. “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:20-21).

Although we did not give an exact ‘when’ for the Rapture (for only Elohim knows the day and hour), maybe we have narrowed down the timing somewhat. One day soon, when the fullness of the times has reached its peak, and before Daniel’s 70th seven begins, we will be “caught up” in the sky to meet the Lord. With our new translated bodies, we will be able to stand before the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, in all His glory.


“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified… For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:28-30, 38-39).


Amen, even so, come Lord Jesus (quickly if not sooner)!


Randy Nettles

rgeanie55@gmail.com - Note: new email


Endnotes:

{1} Perhaps Today – The Imminent Coming of Christ by Thomas Ice (R.R.)

{2} Every Prophecy of the Bible by John F. Walvoord, pgs.473-474

{3} Fullness of Sin (Biblehub.com)

{4} Every Prophecy of the Bible by John F. Walvoord, pg. 440

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