ILLIONS OF US were glued to our television sets on Monday morning, July 26, 1971, when at 9:34 o’clock three astronauts blasted off from Cape Kennedy. As they sped toward the moon, newsmen, searching for comparisons, made the incredible statement that the energy expended to lift the gigantic ship from the launching pad equaled the power of all streams and rivers of our nation, if harnessed.
With bated breath we saw the prodigious spaceship slowly lift from the earth, then gain ever-increasing speed and quickly streak out of sight. What a technological achievement that was for science, and what an exhilarating experience for those astronauts as they raced to the moon!
Man’s astounding venture into space is but an anemic comparison to the phenomenal space trip you and I will take when Jesus comes. Naming that epoch-making event the Rapture, or the translation of the Church, many of us today eagerly anticipate the return of Christ, which could take place at any moment.
His coming will be secret and unannounced, and we who are His followers will be whisked away forever to be with the Lord ( 1 Thessalonians 4: 1 7). Though we get excited about this truth, it must surely sound preposterous to people who hear it for the first time. Yet that notable book the Bible, clearly and emphatically teaches the doctrine of the Rapture. It states:
Take notice; I am telling you a secret. We shall not all die but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet call. For the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed ( 1 Corinthians 15: 51, 52; Berkeley ).
Many Will Never Die
There will be thousands upon thousands of people who will never die; and if you and I are living for Christ when He returns, we will be among those thousands. We will take a plain air trip through the sky, past the moon, the stars, the sun, and into heaven. The Bible speaks of how quickly we will be changed: “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52).
We will be changed suddenly, as quickly as you blink your eye, and you do that in one-thousandth of a second! Little wonder that Christ likens His coming to that of a thief who slips in quickly, and quietly carts off valuables from a home. The Lord will return and secretly sweep us from this world. We will vanish in thin air-think of it! Those left will not even be aware of the event until it is all over.
Since my childhood I have known about the scriptural teaching of the return of Jesus. The circumstances that forcefully brought that truth to my young mind are indelibly stamped upon my consciousness. I was with Mother in the backyard of our home where she was sweeping leaves with a brush broom. Hearing a rumbling in the distance, she stopped sweeping, looked toward the East, the direction of the noise, where a thunderhead loomed.
“Someday,” she said in her saintly, quiet voice, “Christ is coming back. And He will come in a cloud, perhaps like that one,” she concluded, as she pointed toward the thunderhead. The rumbling, the cloud, and the thought of Christ appearing perturbed me; and all the while the noise in the cloud’s direction became louder.
Soon, however, my mind was set at ease, for I was hearing the faint, distant blowing of the whistle of a freight train; I then realized that the train accounted for the rumbling sound. Of course, soon afterward I learned that the Lord did not give the doctrine of the Rapture to frighten us, but for our comfort and encouragement.
Jesus Anticipated His Return
The thoughts of our Lord dwelt often upon His second advent. Such statements as, “When the Son of Man shall come in his glory”; “The Son of Man shall come”; or “I will come again,” intersperse His recorded sayings. The night before His ignominious death at Calvary, the Lord spoke tenderly to His disciples about His return. He endeavored to prepare them for His leaving by telling them why He was going and that He would come back.
His compassionate words were spoken to His tired disciples on that dark night of the betrayal. In the record of that incident, we can see far into the depths of His concerned heart as He endeavored to bolster the courage of His small wavering band. He said:
Let not your heart be troubled. You are trusting God, now trust in me. There are many homes up there where my Father lives, and I am going to prepare them for your coming. When everything is ready, then will I come and get you, so that you can always be with me where I am. If this weren’t so, I would tell you plainly (John 14: 1-4; Living Bible).
Christ will keep His word and will come again for His disciples. They will arise in the Resurrection that occurs at the Rapture; “for the dead in Christ shall rise first,” Paul wrote. Therefore, when Christ comes back, all of those saints who have died since the Cross will rise; and the living believers will be translated, and together they will all be taken by Christ to heaven (1 Thessalonians 4: 16, 17).
The Lord’s Supper Anticipates Christ’s Return
Did you ever consider that when you participate in that very sacred ordinance, the Communion, you are giving testimony to your faith in the return of Christ? Let us take a look at that first Lord’s Supper. The Twelve met with the Lord in the Upper Room for the evening meal. While the dining progressed, Judas pondered the betrayal and Christ knew His thoughts.
The other disciples were oblivious of the fact that their treasurer contemplated such a dastardly act. The drama and suspense that transpired that evening could never be fully reenacted on the stage, nor even in the imagination. Jesus’ heart was heavy. Added to the gigantic burden of His imminent death was the heartbreak that one of His disciples would betray Him to His enemies, and that the others, one by one would forsake Him and flee.
Nonetheless, against this backdrop Jesus confidently instituted the Lord’s Supper. This holy e ent became an ordinance of the Church, and every time you and I take Communion we are saying by our actions that Christ is coming back. The Bible declares:
… The Lord Jesus, on the night in which He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is my body, broken on your behalf; this do in remembrance of Me.” Similarly also He took the cup, after they had supped, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you will proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes (1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Berkeley).
A sacred event took place recently which you probably read about in the newspapers. Twelve hundred delegates to the Jerusalem Conference on Biblical Prophecy gathered on the Mount of Olives on June 18, 1971, to participate in a Communion service, to “remember the Lord’s death till he comes.” The vast congregation partook of bread, baked by Christian Arabs in Bethlehem, and a drink made from grapes grown on Mount Carmel, which they sipped from Communion cups made from olive wood.
The service took place on the very mountain from which Christ ascended to heaven and the same one to which He will return (Zechariah 14: 4). Looking westward, the delegates had a breathtaking view of the holy city, dominated by the old Temple area, which may be the exact site from which Christ will rule the world for a thousand years.
The unity and brotherliness that pervaded that vast service as men and women from thirty-two different countries took the Communion was a foretaste of the joy and oneness that will be in evidence as believers from around the world are caught away in the Rapture!
We Expect Him to Return
When we speak of the imminent return of Jesus, we mean that He could come at any time. Actually, that time could be very soon. Many Christians feel that the event is quite probably upon us. On the other hand, we do not know when He will come. Timewise, seventy-five years with God is almost as nothing, while for us it is a life-span. However, signs foretold in the Scriptures-such as those of the Tribulation, Armageddon, and the second coming of Christ to earth-cast distinct shadows on these days. Therefore, we know that He could come at any moment.
Billy Graham has said, “There is a foreboding in the air. Something phenomenal is about to happen; and that phenomenal happening will be the return of Christ.” In a national magazine it was recently stated, “For many, there exists a firm conviction that Jesus’ second coming is literally at hand.”
Something Is Going to Happen
Some people who do not necessarily accept the teachings of the Bible-and who, in fact, may not even be aware of the futuristic aspect of the Scriptures-are saying that something must happen, that a cataclysmic event of worldwide proportions is inevitable. Since the splitting of the atom, there have been statesmen, scientists, politicians, and men from all other walks of life who have asked with increasing frequency, “Where are we headed? What can we do? When will the end occur?”
Churchill said, “Our problem is beyond us”; while Jean Paul Sartre commented, “There is no escape from the present dilemma.” Evangelist Billy Graham wrote, “Our world is filled with fear hate lust greed, war, and utter despair. Surely the second coming of Jesus Christ is the only hope of replacing these depressing features with trust, love, universal peace, and prosperity. For it the world wittingly or inadvertently waits.”
In this perplexing hour Christ could well return. At any moment believers could be whisked away from this sin-blighted world, for the Lord will come at a dark hour:
And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light (Romans 13:11, 12).
How Should We Live Now?
Speaking to a group of church leaders in Wheaton, Illinois, in September of 1971, Dr. Kenneth Gangel declared, “The New Testament abounds with references of God’s demands for holiness.” This fact is certainly evident in many of the references concerning Christ’s return. Careless living and indifference toward the things of God are not the marks of one who is looking for that ”blessed hope.” Christ is coming after people who are right with Him-those who are pure of heart. In fact, a criterion for livings. Note what the Scriptures say:
When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness (Colossians 3:4, 5).
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure (1 John 3:2, 3).
These references suggest that Christ is coming after people who are living careful, godly lives and who are pure of heart. In fact, a criterion for living with God eternally, whether we go to heaven by death or by Rapture, was stated by our Lord as one of the Beatitudes. He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matthew 5 :8).
The Holy Spirit used the doctrine of the Rapture to lead me to Christ. He pierced my heart with this truth one wintry Sunday afternoon while, as a teenager, I was sitting around the fireplace with my parents. As was customary, Dad was talking of spiritual things; and on that particular day his mind dwelt upon the Rapture. He said, “You know, it is going to be bad to be good, but not be good enough to go.” Dad was perceptive, and he may have sensed my spiritual need.
On the other hand, he may not have been aware of my_ need of Christ; for I went to church, sang in the choir, and did not have open habits common to the unconverted. I was good, but not good enough; I had not been born again.
Upon my retirement that night, sleep fled; and my youthful heart, convicted of its sins, beat out the stinging truth, “It is going to be bad to be good, but not be good enough to go.” The following weekend during a Communion service I gave my heart to Christ.
Bill Gaither has written an inspiring song about the return of Christ, and he titled it, “The King Is Coming.” The chorus of his stirring song says:
Oh, the King is coming; the King
I just heard the trumpet sounding
and now His face I see;
Oh, the King is coming; the King
Praise God, He’s coming for me!
The Author The Reverend Mr. Buxton is director of Sunday School and Youth Literature at the Church of God Publishing House. The article printed here is taken from Brother Buxton’s book entitled EXPECT THESE THINGS, which is soon to be published by Revell.*
*This article originally appeared in the September 11, 1972 issue of Evangel. Facts presented may be out of date.