By DR. J. E. SHELLEY
Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4: 17).
In a letter lately received from a dear brother in Christ there appeared the following sentence. “The belief that the Lord’s coming for His people will be a ‘secret coming’ passes understanding. It is not reasonable to believe that an event ushered in by the voice of an archangel and the trump of God can be ‘secret’.”
This led the writer to enquire whether a “secret” catching up or rapture is impossible, unreasonable, or without precedent and analogy in the Scriptures. That such an event is impossible no true believer in God will allow, for with God all things are possible.
The resurrection of those who have died in the Lord, the change in the bodies of living believers, and the catching up of these classes of saints, is utterly outside human experience and above human reason. It is a matter of revelation. That this translation will not be perceived by the senses of worldlings, cannot, does not, make it more unreasonable. Indeed, considering that it is an event connected with the Holy Spirit, and that the bodies translated are not earthly bodies but spiritual, it seems more probable that it will not be perceived by the earthly senses of the unredeemed, who, having no faith, have no spiritual vision.
There remains the question: Is a “secret” rapture without precedent or analogy in the Scriptures? The translation of Enoch first merits consideration in connection with this subject. We all admit that it occurred, and many students of the Word see in the pre-judgment rapture of this man a wonderful type of the catching up of the Church, which is the body of the Man Christ Jesus. But was it secret? Heb. 11: 5 shows that it was certainly by faith. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Faith is a thing not seen. That this rapture, which was the substance of Enoch’s hope and the evidence of his faith, and thus partook of the nature of hope and faith, was not seen in the writer’s firm conviction.
This is borne out by the words, “He was not found.” It is impossible to believe that these words only mean that “he was translated.” That meaning is forbidden by the structure of the sentence. It can only mean that search was made for his body, which search would not have been made had his body been seen going up to God through the clouds.
No Scripture is of private interpretation, but it is submitted that Heb. 11 shows (1) that rapture is the work of the Holy Spirit, through faith acting on a believer’s body, and therefore can only be perceived by a like faith; (2) that in Enoch’s case there is good, if not conclusive evidence that it was “secret” or hidden from the men of his day.
In 2 Kings 2, we get the taking up into Heaven of Elijah. Again this was in answer to faith on the part of Elijah. He knew he was going to be taken up. He asks Elisha, - “What shall I do for thee before I be taken away from thee?” Elisha asked for a double portion of his spirit to be upon him. Note the word “before.” Elijah appears to realise that his rapture, being a work of God’s Spirit, will only be visible to his successor if Elisha has through faith already received that Spirit. “If thou see me when I am taken from thee it shall be unto thee, but if not it shall not be so.” This teaches that this anticipated (though real) event would only be seen by a like Spirit-given faith and vision.
In connection with this incident it is worthy of note that Elijah, as a rule only girt about the loins with a girdle of leather, was clad with a mantle on this occasion. He left this mantle behind when caught up. In comparing this history with our Lord’s resurrection we note that His precious body rose in a form which did not disturb the grave-clothes, and which left the tomb without moving a stone or being seen by the soldiers.
To the sons of the prophets the evidence of Elijah’s translation lay in what he had left behind, his spirit and his mantle. Elisha knew where the prophet had gone. He opposed any search for his body, but though the sons of the prophets had the revelation that Elijah was to be taken away that day, they do not appear to have had faith to believe it. Elisha did. The apostles, in the case of our Lord Jesus, also knew that He was to rise the third day, but they were “fools and slow of heart to believe” and were told not to be faithless but believing. Mary Magdalene (like the sons of the prophets for Elijah’s body) instituted a search for the Lord’s body. They seem only to have believed because they saw, and were rebuked for their lack of faith. Thus the rapture of Elijah and the resurrection of our Lord were both hidden from unbelievers, and secret in that sense.
There are two remarkable incidents in the Acts of the Apostles which do not appear to have had the consideration they merit in connection with the so-called “secret” rapture. The first is recorded in Acts 5: 17-24. In verse 18 we read that the Apostles were placed in the common prison by the chief priests, but the angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them forth. In the morning, when the high priest sent to the prison, it was found to be shut with all safety and the keepers standing before the doors. But it was empty of the Apostles nevertheless.
Now in this release carried out by the angel, the prison doors were opened, but the keepers standing before the doors heard it not, saw it not. They saw not the angel nor the men being taken away by him. Nor were any of the other prisoners aware of what was taking place. This was indeed a “secret” rapture.
Again in Acts 12 we have a similar incident. The whole chapter demands the closest attention, for it is prophetic as well as historic. Herod having killed James with the sword, proceeds to take Peter also. He evidently anticipates no, interruption of his plans, for he postpones the Apostle’s execution till after Easter “the same night Peter was to be brought forth” he was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and the keepers before the door kept in prison. And behold the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison, and he smote Peter on the side and raised him up and said “Arise up quickly,” and his chains fell from off his hands. And the angel said unto him, “Gird thyself and bind on thy sandals,” and he did so. And he said, “Cast thy garment about thee and follow me,” and he went out and followed him: and whist not that it was true which was done by the angel, but thought he saw a vision.
In this account of the happenings in the inner prison, it is first stated that a light shined in the prison. Nothing is more calculated to awake a sleeper than a light suddenly shined upon him in the darkness. But the light, although a real light to Peter, and not a vision, was unseen by the two soldiers. The angel also smote Peter on the side and raised him up, and further addressed him in audible words, but these actions were unheeded, and these words unheard by the soldiers.
The chains, too, fell from Peter’s hands. No doubt the clang of their fall sounded through the silent cell, but again the noise was unheard by the keepers. The angel speaks twice more to Peter commanding him to bind on his sandals, dress himself, and follow him. But again neither these operations nor the voice of the angel were heard by the soldiers. They slept on. Truly a real, but “secret” rapture.
It will be thus with all of the saints [‘accounted worthy to escape’]. Only those who are alive from the dead*, whose eyes and ears are already open to heavenly things, hear the voice of the archangel and the trump of God. The others to whom they have only been united by the limitations of the flesh, the chains, will continue to sleep the sleep of death.
[* Rev. 3: 1]
Nor is this all. There were two more wards of guards to be passed, and passed they were. No one saw the angel or Peter. That their exit was a mystery to the guards we learn from verse 18, “Now as soon as it was day there was no small stir among the soldiers what had become of Peter.” It will be so when the night is over for us and the great day of wrath dawn on the world.
But even now the story of Peter’s catching away is not
completed. They came to the
Rev. 4: 1 says, “After this I saw a door opened in Heaven, and the first voice which I heard as a trumpet talking with me which said come up hither.” The door which leadeth to the city opened to them of its own accord. No one on earth saw Peter go out. No one saw him enter in. No one will see us! The disciples praying in the house of John Mark found it difficult to believe that this escape was real. They said, “It is his angel which knocks at the gate.” But it was a real deliverance, and they all got a joyful surprise.
What God has done in the past, He can do in the future. In view of this incident it cannot be said that those that hold the “secret” rapture, hold an unreasonable and unscriptural hope. This chapter provides a reason for the hope that is in us.
It gives in addition, good reason to hope that we, the Body of Christ, will not see the revelation of
the power of that one who will seat himself in the
For after the rapture of the Apostle, Herod the king went down to Caesarea, and on a set day, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them of Tyre and Sidon (Tyre is always a type of this wicked mercenary world). And the people gave a shout, “The voice of a god and not a man.” “Immediately the angel of the Lord smote him because he gave not God the glory, and he was eaten of worms and gave up the ghost [spirit].”
This history reminds us irresistibly of 2 Thess.
2: 6-8, “Now ye know what withholdeth that
he (Antichrist) might be revealed in his time;
for the mystery of iniquity doth already work, only he that hindereth will
hinder until he be taken out of the way.” “Then
shall that wicked be revealed whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of
His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.” We know what is said in Ezekiel 28 concerning the fate of the king of
The writer would ask those saints who are waiting for the revelation of the man of sin, for the great tribulation, to give this chapter their earnest and prayerful consideration. It may be that God will rekindle that blessed hope of His coming in their hearts, for with God all things are possible.
- The Advent Witness.