Who Will Be Raptured?

By Stanley R. Skivington

Taken from Grace and Truth Magazine, September 1926


BEHOLD I show you a mystery," are the words of Paul as he begins to speak in I Cor. 15:51 of that event in prophecy to which we have come to refer as "the Rapture." The word "rapture" does not occur in the Scripture, but the dictionary definition and a single verse from God's Word will be sufficient for us to understand how its use originated and the fitness of its adoption. According to the dictionary the word "rapture" has two distinct, though related, shades of meaning: one, a snatching away or violent seizure; the other, that of ecstatic joy and delight. Both of these meanings are exceedingly fitting when the word is applied to that coming event when "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." To be caught up bodily, and to have the unspeakable joy of being forever in the presence of the Lord are the things that constitute the "Rapture." As pregnant with meaning as this word is, and as appropriate as its use, yet when we experience that wonderful translation and view His glorious face, "rapture" will be a weak and beggarly word with which to express our joy, for we read, "Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him" (I Cor. 2:9). This is the mystery that Paul seeks to reveal to us.

Before we take up the question, "Who will be raptured?" it is essential that we touch briefly on another question; that is, "When will the Rapture take place?" We do not purpose to discuss it as to date-setting, because that theme is fully discussed in this same issue by Brother H. A Wilson, but rather as to the time of the Rapture relative to other prophetic events.

Going back to the day of Pentecost for a moment, we find that God then made a final offer of the Kingdom to Israel. This is made clear by Peter's sermon on that day, in which he declared that the condition upon which the Kingdom would be established was "Repent, and be baptizes EVERY ONE of you." This condition was not met, three thousand converts being only a small fraction of the number of those present in Jerusalem that day, to say nothing of the nation as a whole. The Kingdom offer having been rejected, God started (on the very day that was evidently to have marked the beginning of the events leading up to the establishment of the Kingdom) a new thing an unpredicted thing, a thing hid in God throughout ages until it was made known by special revelation to God's chosen minister for this purpose, the Apostle Paul This thing was the Church which is Christ's Body. The baptism of the Holy Spirit, which (had Israel but been willing) was to have ushered men into the Kingdom was then given a new significance, for it inducted then into the Church, as we shall see later. But though this Church, the Body of Christ, was established and founded on the earth before, yes several years before Paul's epistles were written, yet in his epistles alone will be found any teaching whatsoever concerning it. To him and to no other was committed the ministry of making it known to men.

From this it will be clear that the Church is a thing distinct and apart from Israel. When God began His dealing with the Church, He temporarily discontinued His dealing with Israel. The period during which the Church is being formed is therefore a parenthesis or gap in the fulfilment of prophecy concerning that nation. Not until all the prophecies relating to the Church have been fulfilled can the fulfilment of those relating to Israel continue, for not until then will the parenthesis have come to its close.

There are only two prophecies mentioned in the writings for this age of the Body that are peculiar to it, and these two things must of necessity be the next to be fulfilled. The first of these is the general apostasy and falling away that will characterize the closing days of this age (II Tim. 3:1-9) ; and the second is the Rapture, or the coming of the Lord in the air to "catch up" His people (I Thess. 4:16-17). This latter event having taken place, the stage of prophecy will then be set for the rapid fulfilment of the many events of the Great Tribulation foretold in countless Jewish Scriptures, and culminating in the final return of the Lord Jesus Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords to establish His throne upon the earth.

Thus we have before us briefly the succession and relation of events which are the next things to be filled to those which are to follow.

The occasion for raising this question, "Who will be Raptured?" is that from time to time some have taught what has been known as "the split Rapture." This doctrine holds that because of backsliding or sin in the life, and even because of failure to be on the lookout for the Lord's return, all believers will not be raptured at the same time. Such persons as have been so unfortunate as to have been thus left behind will go on into the Great Tribulation to be raptured at a latter date, or to suffer martyrdom at the hands of the Anti- Christ and his followers. Some, for there are many various views concerning this same general theme, believe that there will be a general "catching up" at the close of the Great Tribulation. The reason for this confusion is failure to recognize clearly the distinction between Scriptures addressed to Israel and those addressed to the Church. The passages used by these teachers to demonstrate their positions are almost without exception taken from Jewish books. Since Paul is said in the Word to be the only one to whom the revelations concerning this present age were given, we must look to the material in his epistles to the Church, and to these alone, for our information concerning the closing events of this age. Once this distinction is recognized, the teaching of the split-rapture is left without a leg to stand on.

Rather than engage in any lengthy discussion in consideration of these unscriptural views, let us go immediately to the Scriptures to see what they teach us to who will be raptured.

I. Who Will Be Raptured — Individually?

INDIVIDUALLY, there are two very carefully- defined groups that are to be raptured at the return of the Lord in the air. These are named in I Thess. 4: 16-17: "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." Certain dead persons will be raptured and certain living persons will be raptured. The dead that will be raised and "caught up" are designated as "the dead in Christ"; while the living who will be chosen to participate in this event have the designation — "we."

Let us seek to discover more carefully the membership of the group "the dead in Christ." On the one hand we may conclude with no shadow of doubt that there will not be a single dead unbeliever resurrected at this time. This class is positively eliminated by the expression "in Christ." The next question that arises is, "Does the expression "dead in Christ" include all believers of all ages, or just of the Church age, or are there some, exceptions in either case?" The simple expression "dead in Christ" leaves absolutely no room for believing that there are any exceptions after once we determine the definite group that the Apostle Paul had in mind when speaking. Whatever group is referred to, the rapture of that group will most assuredly be complete to a number.

That Old Testament believers were saved by looking forward to the Cross, and that they could correctly and rightfully be referred to as being "dead in Christ" we will not for a moment deny, but the distinctly Body character of the prophecies concerning the Rapture, and of the books in which such prophecies occur, constrains us to assert with considerable freedom that the expression is used here to designate dead believers of the "Church Age" only. This will be demonstrated a little more fully under our second point. But it is well to note that when- ever the prospects of dead believers of Jewish ages is spoken of in Jewish books, we are always pointed, not to the Rapture, but to the Revelation.

Suffice it also to say of the backslidden and doctrinally confused believers of this age, that there are no Scriptural grounds for the elimination from participation in the Rapture of those sleeping believers who did not look eagerly for His coming or who drifted away from Him, spending possibly many years of their lives, even up to the time of their death, in worldiness and sin. When they received Him they became one with Him and were in Him. No matter how unwilling and rebellious they may have become afterward, they still remained "in Christ" and when the "dead in Christ" are raised they will be present.

As to those living at the time of the Rapture and who will be "caught up" at that time, Paul uses merely the word "we." That this word does not include the unbelievers living at that time it is hardly necessary to state, because it is very evident that those who have rejected Jesus will not be caught up to Him to be forever with Him. On the other hand, there is no room given in the statement for believing that any Christian will be left behind. As with the "dead in Christ," so with the living, — if they have received and accepted Him, they are His, and He is coming for them, no matter whether they arc looking for His return or not, or whether they are pleasing Him or grieving Him by their actions. Praise God, we are His, and though we are faithless, yet He abideth faithful; He cannot deny His own.

II. Who Will Be Raptured — Corporately?

THROUGHOUT the Jewish portions of the Scripture (i.e. all of the Bible except those epistles of Paul from Romans to Philemon inclusive) we are told many, many times of the Lord's second advent. But these all speak of His coming as the fulfilment of the hope of Israel — the Kingdom. These passages all picture Him as the conquering King and Judge, coming in power to vanquish Israel's enemies and to establish upon the earth that reign of righteousness in which Israel is no longer the tail of the nations but the head. References in Jewish Scriptures to Christ's coming have there- fore, to do with two things — a King and a Kingdom.

But when we come to the Pauline epistles to the Church, we have very little mention of the Kingdom or of the King, as such. Rather we find repeated mention of a Body and a Head. The Head is absent from the Body but the day is coming when the Head is going to descend from heaven and the Body is going to be caught up to meet Him, to be forever with Him. This coming of the Head to be united with the Body is in no way analogous to the coming of the King to set up His Kingdom. This event, which we call the Rapture, is never spoken of in Jewish Scripture. It occurs exclusively in those books written to the Church. It is this distinctly Body character of the Rapture teaching that causes us to believe that it has to do with believers of this age and this age alone.

While "the Rapture" is mentioned and referred to many times in the Church epistles, there are two outstanding passages that really go into detail concerning it. One is I Thess. 4:16-17 which has already been cited and discussed. The other is I Cor. 15:51-53 this latter passage a few minutes.

"Behold I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep but WE shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For the corruptible (the dead) must put on incorruption, and this mortal (the living) must put on immortality."

This book (I Corinthians), in the second verse of the first chapter is addressed to "them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that it every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord." Having thus addressed his letter, Paul in the twelfth chapter and thirteenth verse says, "For by one Spirit are WE ALL baptized into one BODY." Thus all in this age who are sanctified by faith in Christ Jesus all who are called to be saints, all who have called upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, also have been baptized into the Body of Christ. In the light of these verses it is evident that the groups of individuals spoken of in I Cor. 15:51-53 constitute the Body of Christ and that the "resurrection" and "change" spoken of there is the "catching up" of the Body to be united with its Head — the Lord Jesus.

If you have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, your destiny is fixed. You are a member of His Body, and when He comes you will be "caught up." If you should fall asleep before that time, then in a moment of time you will be raised in life eternal and body incorruptible If you are still living when that glorious time comes you will be changed instantly into the likeness of Christ And then those who have been dead "in Christ," and those who are alive "in Him" will be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air forever to be with Him. There is no doubt and no uncertainty about it — if you have believed in Him, you will share in the bliss of being "caught up" to be forever with the Lord. Let us join in thanking God for such a glorious prospect for it is a wonderful and inspiring hope ! Let us cherish it, and let us not for one moment permit confused teaching to rob us of our joyous and God-given expectation.