What About the First Century Rapture?
By Arthur Melanson
We are talking about the literal “catching away” of the church that took place at the return of Christ shortly before AD 70. Your author, long a preterist, has not always held to the literal view of the rapture verses. We used to believe “caught up” was simply the language of accommodation thus indicating that living saints were as much a part of the kingdom of God as those raised from the dead. We now realize the error of that former interpretation. As God was patient with us, we should now be patient with those who believe as we did formerly.
A close restudy of the subject in the word of God convinces us of the literal rapture of the first century church and the absolute necessity of that rapture to give the church all that was promised in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
About this time Ed Stevens, after long study, wrote and published a book, Expectations Demand a Rapture. Walt Hibbard wrote one foreword for Ed’s book, we wrote the other. The book has met with intense opposition. Nevertheless, it is a breakthrough of major proportions. It’s not that Ed has discovered the rapture; that knowledge is as old as Scripture, but it is a major breakthrough in seeing and understanding what the first century Christians knew and understood. It’s a breakthrough that has the power to give fresh, accurate insight to the preterist movement.
With this as an introduction, let’s get back to our opening statement: The heart of first century rapture teaching lies in the prayer of Jesus Christ. We do not normally associate rapture teaching with the prayers of our Lord, but therein is the very essence of rapture reality.
Jesus acknowledges His earthly work is finished, and then He prays: “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” (John 17:5) The Bible tells us all creation came forth from Jesus Christ. He is the source of all creation, and He prays for restoration to the glory He had with the Father before the world was. We can only stand in awe, for we cannot imagine that divine glory.
Later, in the same prayer, Jesus prays for the disciples and all believers as He says: “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24) This takes our breath away (or it should), for Jesus not only prays for His former glory but also asks that believers be with Him to see that glory—the glory He had with the Father before the foundation of the world.
The believers include not only the disciples and other Christians of that generation but also include all that believe in Jesus through their message. “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.” (John 17:20) When we remember that two of Jesus’ disciples wrote Gospels, it is easy to understand that we, Christians in post-parousia generations, shall also be with Jesus behind the veil in the presence of God.
We now need to connect this knowledge with some other Biblical truths. John knew he would be alive at the Lord’s return (see John 21). Under divine inspiration he would later write: “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2)
John knew Jesus’ prayer was heard and would soon be answered. He knew all believers were the children of God. He knew the appearing of Christ (Second Coming) would come before physical death. John confesses that not all of what they shall be is revealed, but they did have knowledge of two things: At the Second Coming “we shall be like Him” (a body fit for heaven), and we shall see Him as He is. “See Him as He is” means to see Him in all the glory Jesus had with the Father before the world was. “See Him as He is” also means that John fully understood the prayer of Jesus as recorded in John 17.
Why is this knowledge so important? It is important because the answer to Jesus’ prayer could not take place in this realm! There had to be a supernatural change for those living saints to realize Jesus’ prayer in their behalf. We call that rapture! Paul called it being “caught up” and “this mortal must put on immortality.”
Understand, please, John said these things would happen when He is revealed. He does not say these things would happen years later when he finally died (as tradition tells us). The idea of the church remaining after the Parousia of Christ is not Biblical. The essence of the truth comes from the prayer of Jesus in John 17. If the Father answered the prayer of the Son, then the “catching away” of the living saints is a literal event. If John knew what he was talking about in 1 John 3:2, then the rapture has to be a literal event or Scripture is broken.
This ties in with something else Jesus taught His disciples. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:3) Is it any wonder John knew what to expect at the revealing of Jesus Christ?
Paul teaches exactly the same truth, albeit with more detail. “Since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10)
Notice the phrase, “when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints . . . ” This is what Jesus prayed for and John said would happen on the Day of His revealing. Could such a thing happen in this realm? Let’s not forget that Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
Paul also tells us the saints would admire (marvel at) Jesus in that Day. According to John and the prayer of Jesus, that admiration comes from seeing Him as He is—seeing Him in the glory He had with the Father before the world was.
Then there is this verse that Paul wrote to living believers: “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” (Colossians 4:3) It is difficult to make sense of that verse except for a first century rapture occurrence.
Some might think a rapture cannot take place because of Hebrews 9:27. “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” The removal of first century Christians from the earth would seem to contradict this verse, but Paul does make an exception under divine inspiration as he writes: “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—” (1 Corinthians 15:51)
These are a few of the reasons why I changed my position on the first century rapture. I notice that many preterists are giving the rapture a fresh look, and they are seeing that the catching away of the first century church is a Scriptural view. For a much fuller treatment please see Ed Stevens’s recently released Expectations Demand A First Century Rapture. There is a title change to keep the book in a preterist setting. This book contains 158 pages, and has much more material than the first edition. It answers recently raised objections against this view and presents accurately the Biblical view for a literal rapture occurrence.
Ed Stevens’s Web Site: www.preterist.ORG
Phone for the International Preterist Association is (814) 368-6578.
Ed’s address is 122 Seaward Avenue, Bradford, PA 16701-1515.
Rev. Arthur Melanson is the host of the Joy of the Lord Christian talk radio program aired over WTMR Camden/Philadelphia each weekday morning at 10:00 to 11:00.
The Joy of the Lord Ministry went on the air in 1977. It continues today in providing prayer, sound Bible teaching and Spirit led counseling to listeners in many states.
Barbara Melanson, Arthur’s wife for fifty years, works behind the scenes in the Joy of the Lord office mailing Newsletters and teaching materials to God’s people.
What do YOU think ?
Perhaps this recently promulgated and somewhat novel view explains the angst in some quarters of pręteristic understanding. Having supposedly no believers 'left behind' on planet earth could justify the notion that what's been present for the last two millennia has been but a poor imitation of the real thing that has long since been whisked away. One can imagine the power of redemption pre AD70, but this present view begs the question – if it was all finished then, as logic would require, then from where cometh redemption and its message post AD70? Like the 'rebirth' the 'Resurrection' was quite literal, but that does not necessitate it being physical. This "literal rapture" reasoning is nothing more than the vestiges of futurism, IMO. davo – pantelism.com
Mr. Melanson's errors here are numerous, but I will try to answer briefly...First he attempts to establish a "rapture" view within Jesus' own words in the context of his John 17 prayer. He attempts to tie together several passages that have nothing to do with what he is attempting to prove. He rationalizes Jesus' statement to his Father that the Father would "...glorify thou me together with thyself, with the glory that i ever had with thee before the world was." (John. 17:5) Of course, according to the immediate context beginning in V. 1, Christ states that it is to the cross that he is then looking towards as he says these things: "Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee." It is within the perview of the glory of the cross that he makes the statement of dying and then being glorified with the Father. Then, in John 17:24 Christ prays: "Father, I desire that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where i am..." As Mr. Melanson attempts to tie these two prayers together, he is carried along by the presupposition that this "being with Christ" and "Beholding his glory" means a physical removal of his first century disciples to the place where they could see this. What Mr. Melanson skips past (curiously so, or maybe not?)is the prayer of Christ that is sandwiched between verses 5 & 24. John 17:15 has Jesus praying to the Father: "I do NOT ask thee to take them OUT of the world, but to keep them from the evil." A clear reference to the fact that Christ not only was not meaning in verses 5 & 24 that the first century believers were to be "raptured" off the planet surface, but that in fact his desire was for them NOT to be removed from the earth. Instead, he prays that the Father would keep them (on the earth, and) from the evil. A prayer of protection is what Christ offers on their behalf and not a prayer of removal. Mr. Melanson assumes a physical rapture is further pointed to by the appstle John in 1 John 3:2..."Beloved, now we are the children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that WHEN he appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him just as he is." The word "when" that i have highlighted is from the Greek word EAN. This word can be translated as "when", but in a context like this one it can be also accurately translated as "if." (See Arndt and Gingrich, Pg. 211, 1979 edition) Young's Literal Translation says, "...and we know that IF he may be manifested..." Weymouth's states it as, "We know that IF Christ reappears we shall be like him..." The Greek text which the preceding two translations more accurately represents, is not telling us that Christ might not appear or come back, but the emphasis is on the possibility that those to whom John was writing may in fact not be alive at the first century parousia that they were all expecting. He might appear to them (because they were still alive,) he might not. But one thing is for sure, a certainty in regards to the recipients of Johns letter that they would in fact see him in a physical rapture cannot be deduced from this text without doing damage to the text itself. Lastly, Mr. Melanson really likes Col. 3:4 (not, Col. "4:3" as it is typed in his article), and thinks that he finds a reference to a physical rapture there. Once again, context and the Greek language come to the rescue. In Col.3:3, Paul tells the Colossians: "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." Where their lives "were" (hidden with Christ) is the controlling aspect taking us into the next verse, V. 4, which reads..."When Christ who is our life is revealed (PHANAROTHE), then you also will be revealed with him in glory." V. 3 has already told us that we (the Colossians) as believer's, have our lives hidden within Christ. V. 4 completes the thought by telling us that when Christ is "manifested" ("made evident, plain, clear"- Barclay Newman Lexicon)that where our lives are- in Christ- would be made more plain, clear, evident. First, the subject of the Second Coming is nowhere in this context. (Context, please!) Next, there is certainly no subject reference as to a "rapture" of some sort either. Mr. Melanson's assumption as to the rapture meaning here is a clear violation of the context. He is reading this rapture idea into the text. One must agree that what was to be made clear, plain, evident, was the greater truth of the believer's life being hidden with Christ in God. The text does not say that Christ would be revealed to the Colossians through a "rapture" does it? Of course not. This is a dangerous and fallacious doctrine, this literal first century removal of all of the then- alive- Church. Not only can it not be proven or established by scripture (without going through some real exegetical gymnastics), but there is no historical evidence for it of any kind. (Ed Stevens assertion that the church that now exists since an AD 70 rapture is firmly refuted by Dan. 2:44). These two facts alone should clarify the issue for us. This "new" and unheard of rapture idea (previously suggested by Russel and Hampden-Cook)does not help the Preterist cause. It hinders it. Dr. Kelly Birks
The idea of a physical rapture is not "a breakthrough of major proportions." It is a BREAKDOWN of major proportions that results from preterists' failure to understand that after Christ's resurrection in the spring of AD 30 those who were in Christ were already in heaven (Eph. 2:4-6) and didn't need Titus' subsequent temple-wrecking activities to get them there. Believers in a physical rapture apparently believe that heaven is a physical place, with streets of physical gold, that flesh and blood bodies can enter.
Yes, that's why it really is a hopeless case of 'dispensational-preterism'.
Reading the critics, I'm totally convienced that silence does not demand a rapture, but I'm not convienced that a physical rapture did not happen in the first century. A lot of good questions on both side, a lot of problems on both side (imho). Please do not create two movements in preterism, rather convience the doubtful readers with an acceptable common answer. Anything wrong, again imho, with the spiritual-only approach. Cheers, Gabor
There is no "acceptable common answer." The believers didn't ascend to heaven at Christ's parousia - instead, the kingdom (spiritual reign) of God came on earth as in heaven at that time in answer to the prayer of Mt. 6:10. Heaven descended to earth (Rev. 21:2). Preterists, like futurists, appear to be incapable of understanding that the old, natural Israel and the old, natural world both were hopelessly fallen and that God's first-century solution to those twin problems involved the creation, through the miracle of spiritual regeneration, of a new, spiritual and eternal Israel (at Christ's resurrection) and a new, spritual and eternal world (at Christ's parousia).
The world was not changed. Humans are the same. The readers of New Testament were waiting for a perceivable change. Either spiritual or physical. No accounts. No new spiritual Israel was created - there are thousands of denominations and churches. 2000 years past - no spiritual kingdom exist on the Earth. Lions don't eat straw in spiritual sense - no peace on Earth. Christ on the right of the Father but there is no better contact with Him than two thousands years before. Why we need Josephus' accounts about AD 70? No need of physical fulfillments ever. I still have the hope that Ed Stevens can show anything from the past. Mt. 6.10 is an everlasting prayer independent from Parusia.
As stated, "incapable of understanding." Those who lack spiritual discernment are unable to understand the momentous spiritual fulfillments of the first century. Their natural eyes can't see the new, spiritual and eternal world (described in Rev. 21 and 22) that appeared at Christ's parousia so they "know" it doesn't exist. Spiritual regeneration - a second and spiritual birth - is beyond their grasp. They reject Paul's explanation of the basis of God's full revelation to man - "first the natural" (things of the OT), "then the spiritual" (things of the NT) - 1 Cor. 15:46. To them it is not given to know the mysteries (spiritual secrets) of the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 13:11).
If the rapture was only spiritual, in this case nobody had spiritual eye in first century. If anyone had spiritual eyes and not died before Parusia why was silent about that great spiritual change? Or all spiritually advanced christian died before AD 70, including Timothy, Titus, Silas, Barnabas, etc... ?
The comments of Dr.Kelly Nelson Birks is POSITIVE proof that their is only one infallible source of truth THE BIBLE.I do not need a"doctor" to tell me what God says PLAINLY in holy scripture.We should have left the doctors to practice medicine not to come between us and God.God is VERY capable to instruct each of us as christians ONE ON ONE His TRUTH in the INFALLIBLE HOLY SCRIPTURES.In conclusion,if the inspired writers of the NT wrote that Jesus would come back for them before they all would die I BELIEVE THE BIBLE!!! After 22 years of serious spirit guided bible study I did not come to these conclusions lightly.ONLY God can tell you in the end what His holy bible means.I DO NOT need a doctor to explain what plain english means in the bible.The living God who lives in me tells me all I need to know in His only infallible source THE HOLY SCRIPTURES.Let God be true and every man a liar. EVB
Hear! Hear! Amen, Amen, Amen.
I have also come to the conclusion that there was a first century rapture. this article just reinforces that truth.
I look forward to more investigation into this subject. I tend to lean toward a catching away of the pre 70 saints but am not settled in this view. I see unanswered questions in all views of the 70ad parousia of Christ and am trying to hear all views as well as study the subject through personal study of the Bible. I come from a Charismatic background and speak in tongues extensively which might make me a small minority in the Preterist movement. A catching away of the saints to the "perfect" still leaves room for the "gifts" of the Spirit , and this is important to me, as I believe that these 1Cor 14 "gifts" are still valid. It would be hard for me to give up the belief that God still does miracles through faith in Him as He did in the Apostles time. I have wrestled with these ideas but am still holding onto the belief that God is still a miracle working God and that the main obstruction to greater manifestation of "miracles" is unbelief among Christians. Please pray for me that I will be able to share my end time view with my Charasmatic brothers, and let's pray for one another that we may reach the unity of the faith. We can still love and walk together as preterist believers even though we have differing ideas. Let us not forget that the main goal is to love God and one another as He loves us. Thanks for all the "positive" comments that are intended to instruct, lets build each other up , not tear down, there are valid points being expressed by those of differing opionion, glory be to God, Tim Terry.
Date: 26 Feb 2009
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