Is the Rapture of the Church, which is before the Tribulation, a Secret Event?
Biblical Research Monthly — by Dr. David L. Cooper
A Message delivered by Dr. Cooper at the Society's Monthly Report Meeting, July 12, 1950
Is the rapture of the Church, which is before the Tribulation, a secret event? Do you know what I mean by that? I venture that many people do not know what a person is talking about when he speaks about the rapture of the church. Yet I suspect that everybody here in this audience knows. But many audiences, even in the bon ton churches, do not know what one is talking about when he speaks of the rapture. Did you ever look that word up in the dictionary? Rapture ... what does it mean? It means “to transport.” That is the original meaning — to transport, to carry across, to carry from one place to another. That is the meaning which we attach to it in our expression, the rapture of the church. But if you will look in Webster's Dictionary, you will see that this is a rare meaning. When we speak of transports, or raptures of transport, raptures of joy, we use the term in a figurative sense. But when we are talking about the rapture of the church, we are talking about the catching up of the church out of the world. God or Christ by His mighty power transforms our fleshly literal bodies and changes them into spiritual bodies; then He takes us from the earth and receives us to Himself in the air. He then goes back with us to heaven. He goes back to heaven, because He will have come from there. But we shall go into heaven for the first time, accompanying Him to glory. Now that is what we are talking about when we speak of the rapture of the church.
I believe that the rapture of the church occurs before the Tribulation. I am of that profound conviction. When I look at I Thessalonians, chapters 4 and 5, I shall tell you why I believe that the rapture of the church occurs before the Tribulation. But you notice I said “the rapture of the church.” I didn't say “the rapture.” I modified the word, rapture, by adding the phrase “of the church.” As a rule, when I, am considering the subject, I do not say “the rapture.” I say, “the rapture of the church, of the body of Christ.” I always stress the thought that it occurs before the Tribulation. Why do I modify the expression, the rapture of the church? Why do I put “the church” there? For this reason: There is to be another rapture. There is another rapture — the rapture of the Tribulation saints. That is something entirely different. The rapture of the church — the rapture of the believers, the rapture of the body of Christ — occurs, as I am convinced, before the Tribulation Period begins. I suspect that all of us believe that, don't we? But I say there is another rapture which is the rapture of those saints who turn to the Lord after the church is gone, who turn to the Lord during the Tribulation Period. They have to be raptured; their bodies have to be transformed, have to be immortalized. Why? Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. That's what Paul said. So then at the end of the Tribulation there will be the rapture of the Tribulation saints. First, there is the rapture of the church before the Tribulation; second, the rapture of the Tribulation saints after the Tribulation. Those two raptures are separated by the seven years of the Tribulation — if not more.
You ask where do I see this teaching? Where does the Bible teach anything about the rapture of the Tribulation saints? It is in the Bible; it's there; it's there in two places. It is in Isaiah 25:8. Now I cannot take the time to go into a discussion of Isaiah 25:8, that is, the whole context. By the way, I am starting right away a series of articles on the two raptures. Maybe six articles. They will be in the Monthly. And if your subscription is about to run out, be certain to renew. And if there is somebody else, some of your friends, some preacher, some missionary who ought to get this message, then you subscribe immediately for that one. That is a very important point. Remember, we are just beginning to study the Bible. Isaiah 25:8 reads:
He hath swallowed up death for ever; and the Lord Jehovah will wipe away tears from off all, faces; and the reproach of his people will be take away from off all the earth: for Jehovah hath spoken it.”
What is the prophet talking about in this passage? I know what he has in mind. He — that is God — “hath swallowed up death.” The point that I want you now to get is the time of which the prophet is speaking. In Isaiah, chapter 24 — and that is part of this one oracle — in Isaiah 24:1-20 the prophet is talking about the Tribulation. In verse 21 he mentions the binding of Satan and all of the demons in the pit of the abyss and their being held there for many days, that is, during the Millennium. Verse 28 states: “Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed; for Jehovah of hosts will reign in mount Zion ...” that is, Christ will reign in Mount Zion after the Tribulation and after the binding of Satan. Now forget the chapter division. In 25:1-5 there is a song injected into this prophecy that celebrates the over throw of Babylon, that will be rebuilt. Remember that verses 1-5 are a song. Then verse 6 of chapter 25 takes up thought of verse 23 of the preceding chapter. Verse 23 says, “Jehovah of hosts will reign in mount Zion.” 25:6 states: “And in this mountain will Jehovah of hosts make unto all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.” In what mountain? somebody asks me. In Mount Zion, in Jerusalem, when He reigns there, reigns in glory during the Millennium. When He comes, He mounts the throne of David in Jerusalem. Then He sets a feast of fat things on the lees. Is He going to banquet people with some kind of fruit cocktail, followed by certain courses of meats and vegetables, and ending with desserts and drinks? In other words, with all courses, from soup to nuts? Is that what he is talking about, a literal banquet? No, he means a spiritual banquet. The nations will go up to Jerusalem from year to year and enjoy that banquet of spiritual things. At that time, when Jehovah mounts the throne in Zion, He removes the veil that the god of this world has put over the eyes of those who do not believe. Who is the god of this world? Satan, who will be bound at the beginning of the Millennium. Hence, this veil at that time is removed from their faces. Then — at the time when He thus binds Satan and removes this veil from the eyes of all peoples — then He will have swallowed up death forever. But what does this mean? At the time when Jesus mounts the throne of David in Jerusalem, there will be no more deaths — with the one exception mentioned in Isaiah 65:20,21.
Now we will turn to I Corinthians, chapter 15, and let Paul interpret Isaiah's statement. I shall read beginning with verses 50-52. Here are the resurrection of dead ones and the translation of believers (read verses 53-54). Who said that? Isaiah. Where did he say it? In Isaiah 25:8. Isaiah is looking at what occurs at the end of the Tribulation, talking about what occurs at that time, namely, the swallowing up of death. Paul, what did Isaiah mean when he said that He “hath swallowed up death,” talking about what occurs when Jesus comes back to this earth? Isaiah's prophecy, says Paul, is fulfilled then. Then he adds that Isaiah meant by the expression “He hath swallowed up death for ever,” or, “death is swallowed up in victory,” that at that time the dead in Christ are raised and the living saints are changed. So then I know that Isaiah is talking about something that occurs at the end of the Tribulation. Paul declares that what Isaiah meant was the raising of dead saints and the translation of the living ones. Since Isaiah is talking about what occurs at the end of the Tibulation, I know that there is to he a resurrection of saints at the end of the Tribulation and the translation of saints at the same time.
What saints are these? The Tribulation saints. What's that? “Are you”, you say to me, “talking about the Old Testament saints and the New Testament believers?” These are not thought of in this one passage. I think possibly that the former group may be raised about that time, but I get it from other passages. All right, now listen to me carefully. There is what is known as “the law of double reference,” the law of partial, incomplete fulfillment of prophecy. You know that law, don't you? There may be several, one or more, partial fulfillments of a passage; but there can be but one full and complete fulfillment. Isaiah is focusing his attention on what occurs at the end of the Tribulation. I know that the only saints to be raised then will be the Tribulation saints and those to be translated are those who turn to the Lord during the Tribulation. But Paul is talking to the church and speaking about its being translated. So then I know that Paul in I Corinthians, chapter 16, is talking about a partial, a limited, and incomplete fulfillment of Isaiah's passage when he applies it to the rapture of the church before the Tribulation. But the full and complete fulfillment will occur at the end of the Tribulation just as Isaiah placed it.
My, I have only ten minutes more; so I shall omit the discussion of a certain passage and turn quickly to I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11. It's very, very unfortunate that our Scriptures have been divided into chapters and verses as they have been, because these verse and chapter divisions very frequently hinder our seeing the trend and the drift of thought. In this passage Paul is talking about the rapture of the church. But I want to look first at I Thessalonians 1:9,10:
For they [the people in Macedonia] themselves report concerning us what manner of entering in we had unto you; and how ye turned unto God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, who delivereth us from the wrath to come.”
Paul in talking to the church declares that Jesus was raised from the dead, and that He will deliver us from the wrath to come. What did he mean by the term, “wrath to come”? It can mean only one thing, which is that which is mentioned in the Old Testament. God spoke of tile Tribulation Period as a time of wrath, a day of wrath, a day of war and alarm, a day of clouds and darkness, and the like. So when John the Baptist began his preaching, he said to the scribes and Pharisees, “Ye offspring of vipers, you bunch of snakes, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” — the wrath of which the Old Testament prophets spoke, the Tribulation Period. Jesus will deliver the church from the wrath to come. When I see that, I am convinced that the translation of the church, the body of Christ, will occur before the wrath takes place. I am a firm believer, therefore, in the pre-Tribulation rapture of the church of God.
Now turning to the fourth chapter and beginning with the thirteenth verse I read:
But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that fall asleep;” that is, those who die in Christ, “that ye sorrow not, even as the rest, who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we that are alive, that are left unto the coming of the Lord, shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from “heaven” (in silence, in complete silence?) “with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.” (I Thessalonians 4:13-16)
That is the way Jesus will come. Ever since 1912 I have been taught that the rapture will be a secret event. Will it be that way? The passage declares that there will be the missing ones. One will disappear from here, another from there, another from another place. The people of the world won't know what has happened. This position I have been taught. But remember, I don't believe everything I've been taught. I do not believe it. I try all things by the Word.
When I read it as a secret rapture, you called me down. Didn't you call me down on it? I did read it as a secret rapture. I said, “He's going to descend from heaven in complete silence, and you shouted, “No.” I don't think I misunderstood. You called me down on that, and you did well in doing that. I misread the passage.
The Lord will come. We say that “we that are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord,” shall be caught up. We have studied I Thessalonians at the office, but it won't hurt us to review this most important subject. Didn't Paul expect Christ to come back in his own lifetime? In your reply you just fell right into my trap. In the University of Chicago, when I was there, I heard this position; That Paul was very enthusiastic when he first became a Christian and believed that Jesus was coming back, right back, in his own lifetime. But they said that he improved with age, and that finally he changed his mind with reference to the rapture, deciding that, when he was in prison and had heard the judge's decision, he would die but would not live to see the coming of the Lord. That's the way they taught it in the University of Chicago when I was there: That Paul at first believed it but toward the close of his life changed his mind. I don't believe a word of that. Paul did not expect Jesus Christ to come back in his own lifetime. But doesn't this passage say so? No, it does not. It has been misunderstood, been interpreted to teach that, but it does not. Listen. There was a regular prophetic method that the prophets of the Old Testament and the prophets of the New employed — and Paul was a prophet, wasn't he? Yes, he was a prophet. And they all spoke the same language. The prophets — get this — believed in the solidarity of the Jewish nation, believed in the solidarity of the church. Moses, Isaiah, and David frequently were carried forward in vision to sometime in the future and, figuratively speaking, in that vision they were let down in the midst of the future scenes. In such revelations they talked to the people as if they were actually living at that definite future time. You see examples of this principle time and time again in the writings of the Old Testament prophets. Paul was a New Testament prophet. By the Spirit of God, in this vision, he is transported from the first century to the very last of this age and is let down, figuratively speaking, among the realities of the end time, and he talks as if he is present then. No, Paul did not think that Jesus was coming back in his own lifetime. He was simply speaking as the prophets and psalmists had done.
All right now; will the rapture of the church be a secret event? You have answered that yourselves. Verse 16: “For 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; 17 then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” From the earliest days of my Christian life I believed — since I had been taught that way — that the people of the world would know nothing about the rapture except as they discovered certain ones missing. I was taught that; but I never could harmonize that doctrine with these verses and with the passage in I Corinthians. He's coming with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, with the trump of God. I believe everybody will hear Him. They may not understand the significance of what they hear and see, but they will know of these things. These things will occur in an atom of time, in a split second of time. What, in a split second? It will occur that way. It's time for me to quit now.
Jesus will descend to the air in the manner foretold; I believe — when I compare scripture with scripture — that He will be heard all over the earth. There will be people who will realize then and there what has occurred. I believe that there will be a mighty turning to God. That's what I am inclined to believe. But I am “bull-dogmatic” on that point: that Jesus will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and will be heard universally. Have I a right to be dogmatic on that? Paul asserts it.
He's coming to the air, and He will raise the dead in Christ first; then the next thing that occurs is His catching up all the living saints. I don't believe in a partial rapture. I believe that every born-again person will be caught up in the rapture and will go and meet the Lord in the air — ever to be with Him.