"Selective or . . . Partial Rapture"
by G.W. Bell
The First Resurrection and who will share in it?
A strange notion is being energetically propagated amongst assemblies of the Lord's people, that "sharing in the first resurrection is a privilege possible of forfeiture by the believer." Luke 21: 34-36 is quoted, "watch and pray always that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things and to stand before the Son of Man." These things are evidently the "days of vengeance," "distress in the land" of Judea, and "wrath upon this people" (Israel). Those who under the theory are contemplated as sharing in the first resurrection are described as "first-fruits," who, it is asserted, will be removed before the Great Tribulation.
It is a "solemn conviction" of one writer that unless a certain standard of conduct is reached, lives of "consecration" are lived, and the persons can be said to be "looking for Him," not all of them who are Christians "or think themselves such" will attain to the resurrection of which Paul spoke in Phil. 3: 11. It is further stated that Paul felt that he might miss the resurrection. Another writer, commenting on 1 Thess. 4, suggests that the saints referred to as being raised from among the dead are "first-fruits." There is not a scrap of support in this or other Epistles for such an addition to God's Word.
This idea of partial rapture is invariably knit together with the view that the saints in this Church age will pass through Israel's Great Tribulation, although the passages which refer to the Lord's coming for His people contain no such mention. See 1 Cor. 15, and 1 Thess. 4., amongst others.
It also proposes that if a certain unspecified standard of conduct is not attained, outer darkness with weeping and wailing will overtake these unhappy persons. This is a direct attack upon the sovereign electing grace of God, and upon the "salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory."
A well-known writer actually misuses our Lord's words in Luke 20: 34-35, when He was dealing with a frivolous question about the resurrection raised by the Sadducees. They were evil men who rejected the truth of the resurrection altogether, and the question was as to their being accounted worthy to attain that world and the resurrection from among the dead. Clearly wicked men needed repentance towards God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. Only thus would they be accounted righteous and fit subjects for the grace of God. This passage has no real bearing upon the question before us, but it is apparently made use of because it contains the words "accounted worthy."
A further misuse of passages occurs which might mislead the unwary. In order to press the mournful possibility of believers missing the first resurrection and therefore of reigning in the Kingdom (which is said to be a staple of Paul's ministry that believers may be disinherited), 1 Cor. 6: 9-10; Gal. 5: 21, and Eph. 5: 5, are quoted. Now all these passages describe the lives of persons who are surely dead in trespasses and sins, and who have never entered God's Kingdom at all. What a travesty to apply them to those who are "heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ"! "If God be for us, who can be against us?" Our blessed Lord saves to the uttermost them that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them."
Let us examine the passages which are referred to in support of the theory:—
LUKE 21: 34-36.
The scene is Judea and Jerusalem. Wrath will be "upon this people" (Israel). "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles shall be fulfilled." The events in these "days of vengeance" are stated in the parallel passage, Matt. 24., to be associated with the appearance of false messiahs and prophets, the Jewish Sabbath day, signs in heavenly bodies, and with the Son of Man coming out of Heaven in power and great glory to deal with the earth. His title in this connection is Son of Man, Who according to John 5: 21, has authority from the Father as Son of Man to execute judgment. This title is never used in the Epistles and only once in the Acts, where in Ch. 7: 56, it refers back to Daniel 7: 13, and the Kingdom of the Heavens. Angels are to accompany Him to the earth in judgment, and from a passage in Rev. 1: 7, we learn that in that final stage "every eye shall see Him." The tribes of the land, the earth, shall mourn, and the disciples then on the earth are to lift up their heads for "their redemption draweth nigh."
Now all these things relate to that stage of the Lord's coming which is concerned with His Kingdom and reign, when His feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14: 4), that is, after the close of the day of grace, when the day of power comes in, and when He shall subdue all enemies under His feet. The drawing nigh of redemption clearly means the national deliverance of Israel, Daniel's people, who, according to Daniel 12: 1, shall suffer a time of unexampled trouble for the period stated in the chapter, after which "thy people shall be delivered." The "trouble" is the Great Tribulation. The "redemption" spoken of has, of course, no connection with our redemption, "the forgiveness of sins," once for all accomplished through the blood of Christ.
Saints who are justified by God's grace are surely "accounted worthy" to be in His holy presence both now and in the future state, because they are "accounted righteous," justified, cleared of all charge of guilt (Rom. 8.), and thus "made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." They do not, and are never said to "stand before the Son of Man; they come with Him to the earth, to reign with Him in His Kingdom.
REV. 14: 1-5.
The term "first-fruits" used here is related to 144,000 persons found in company with the Lamb on Mount Zion (Jerusalem), who, according to Ch. 7, were a selection, a remnant out of the 12 tribes of, Israel, sealed by an angel, upon their foreheads. This was in the midst of the awful judgments narrated in Ch. 6, introductory to the great day of the wrath of the Lamb. These judgments were falling upon the earth dwellers, a special class often mentioned in this Book, who were unmoved by the wrath of God.
The Revelation is a book closely associated with the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies. But the Church is not the subject of these prophecies, nor is it referred to in the Old Testament. First-fruits were mentioned in connection with the barley harvest of the Hebrews, and they were brought the day after the feasts of Passover and of Pentecost.
The last references to Churches, was in the third chapter of the Revelation. Chapters 6 to 19 contain no reference to them for the very sound reason that the members of Christ's body, those "who are Christ's at His coming," had already been raptured to His presence. When the seer looked through the door opened in Heaven, round the slain and glorified Lamb, were found those who had been redeemed to God by His blood out of every kindred, and tongue and people and nation. These were seen also in Ch. 1. as loosed from their sins, loved by the Lord Jesus, and made "kings and priests unto God." How suitable that by grace, they should be seated on thrones, clothed in white raiment, and have on their heads crowns of gold (Ch. 4: 4)!
These then, were in the glory, when upon the earth were seen these "first-fruits" of Israel. They appear to be a foregathering of that great harvest of the ancient people which God will assuredly reap. The language is entirely suited to Israel, because it is to be understood by reference to the Old Testament. In the New Testament, we find that the "first-fruits" are Christ in resurrection. Afterwards "they that are Christ's at His coming" (1 Cor. 15: 20, 23). It is pure imagination to apply the term "first-fruits" to those that are Christ's. It is moreover "adding" to God's Word to do so, and it is to say the least misleading (Rev. 22: 18). The Lord will comfort His Own, those that are His, not a special selection out of the elect. "We shall all be changed, in a moment."
The following important truths bearing upon the subject should be carefully weighed:—
I. The raising of "this corruptible" and the change of "this mortal" body form essential parts of "the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory," and without them, our salvation would not be completed. All connected with this is of grace, whereas this retrograde theory requires that for the redemption of the body or the rapture, human effort, merit or works are necessary. This is frustrating the grace of God, and perverting the Gospel of Christ. Read Paul to the Galatians.
II. True believers are already in this life placed beyond the reach of death and judgment by the death and resurrection of Christ; they are now justified, seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; they worship in the Holiest under their Great High Priest, and are once for all perfected, purged worshippers, sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Their life is hid with Christ in God, they are precious to Christ as His loved co-heirs, heirs of God and joint- heirs with Christ. They have an inheritance, incorruptible and undefiled and that fadeth not away, reserved in Heaven for them. The Lord is there preparing abodes for them and is coming to bring them thither into the Father's House. Is the present enjoyment of all "spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" to be filched away from the saints, who may fail to reach a degree of sanctity (which the authors of this theory of half-saved persons cannot point to in Holy Scripture), and in its place to face the prospect of "blackness and darkness"? To ask the question is to answer it, and with a forthright denunciation of such a perversion of truth.
III. The necessary cleansing of the "Church," the Lord's people, from defilement is by the Word of God as applied by the Holy Spirit. He, as the heavenly Bridegroom, will present the Church to Himself, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing (Eph. 5: 27).
The Apostle shows how true sanctification is effected; "We all, with open (or unveiled) face beholding as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Lord the Spirit (2 Cor. 3: 18).
IV. One unfortunate effect of this theory seems almost invariably to be that it induces in the minds of its promoters, the self-complacency which arises from the idea that they themselves are in the first rank of Christian living, and that accordingly, they will form part of that imaginary class they have created as befitting their case. "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked." The Apostle strongly deprecates comparing ourselves among ourselves and says this is not wise. "The Lord knoweth them that are His," and all attempts to classify fellow believers, to prejudge others and so forth are a usurpation of the Lord's rights at His Judgment Seat. Then shall every man have that praise of God which is just.
This brief examination will, we believe, show the theory of partial or selective rapture to be utterly erroneous, and that it is based upon a defective appreciation of the perfect work our God has done for His own glory and for our redemption in the finished work of Christ and all that this implies in bringing many sons to glory. It indicates a failure to distinguish between the Church, Israel and the Nations. One can understand that for a writer, who has not been taught to discriminate in this way, it might be difficult to appreciate the height of spiritual blessings in Christ being applied to what are generally called "Christians" that is those nominal persons who have been sprinkled, or simply well-behaved citizens, or non-Jews. The important matter is of course "What is a 'Christian?"
A right answer to this question will show that those who have exercised faith on our Lord Jesus Christ, who have confessed *Him with the mouth and believed on Him with the heart, are saved, and not merely in a "state of salvation," which is the limit reached by the Prayer Book. This means that all the privileges in the spiritual realm set out in the Epistles are the blessed portion of the simplest, youngest and most inexperienced believer in Christ, though their faith is as a grain of mustard seed. Accepted in the Beloved, they should grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. They have a Great High Priest and an Advocate, with the Father and He will not fail in keeping "that which I have committed unto Him against that day."
It is interesting also, to note that it is in looking for the Great Tribulation, this mirage of so-called first-fruits has loomed into sight, and blurred the horizon with self-occupation and self-gratulation. How much better to be as the Thessalonian saints were, that is looking for the Lord with no intervening event. They were taught to realize that the "times and seasons" the "day of the Lord," the coming "as a thief in the night," the apostasy, the rise of the man of sin, etc., did not really concern them. They would be gathered to their Lord (2 Thess. 2: 1), before these things developed. They knew they had a Deliverer from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1: 10). They were waiting for the Son from Heaven. May we do likewise!