Will there be a sudden, secret Rapture?

A highly-influential interpretation of Scripture evolved in the mid 19th century teaching that believers will –without warning – be removed from the earth prior to Jesus return. But is it scriptural?
 

first published 23/08/13
Please see 'Update' note:

Ed foreword:
A recent article on the Christians Together website invited site members and visitors to look at the conflicting theological positions of Dispensationism and Covenant Theology.
In the event the discussion focussed down on the Millennium and what has become termed 'The Rapture'; and the timing of the same.
The following article takes a look at the doctrine. The author Rev. Tony Higton stresses that he avoids being dogmatic on the issue and that his writing is a 'work-in-progress'.
 

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RaptureWill there be a sudden, secret "Rapture" of believers to heaven?

by Rev. Tony Higton
 
Some Christians believe that Jesus will next return suddenly, without any signs or warnings, and will secretly "rapture" (catch up) all believers into heaven whilst there is a time of 'Great Tribulation' on earth.

They say this could happen at any moment. Nothing needs to happen before it. This return of Jesus is completely imminent. It will only be seen by the church, not by the world. It is not the same as the Second Coming which will happen later and be seen by the whole world.

I was brought up on this view and, throughout my childhood, I was excited by the thought that Jesus could return at any moment. So I understand only too well how much this view means to Christians who hold it. It is not my intention to cause unnecessary upset to them but I have to say that I have concluded that it is an incorrect understanding of the New Testament.
 
History of the "Secret Rapture" view
 
This view sees the following order of events:

1.  Secret Rapture
2.  Great Tribulation (Matt 24:21)
3.  Second Coming
4.  Millennium (1000 year reign of Christ on earth Rev 20:1-6)
 
Here is a potted history of this view:

(a)  Early church leaders and their godly descendants for 1800 years didn't hold this view.
(b)  In 1830 Margaret Macdonald had an End Times vision and began to teach the Rapture of what we would call Charismatic Christians only.
(c) Edward Irving, Scottish Presbyterian preacher, then taught this view. d.                John Nelson Darby, Anglican priest, probably heard the view from the above. He formed the Plymouth Brethren. [Part of my background is in the Brethren]
(e)  Darby influenced American lawyer Cyrus I Scofield who wrote the notes for the Scofield Bible which teach this view. [I was brought up on the Scofield Bible]. f. Recently Hal Lindsay, Tim LaHaye ('Left Behind' novels) have popularised this view.
 
"Dispensationalism"
 
J N Darby believed:
 
(a) That God's dealings with humanity are divided into seven ages or "dispensations."
 
(b) That God's dealings with Israel are totally separate from his dealings with the church. " 
  • Israel and the Church belong to different "Dispensations" (Ages) "      
  • God has different plans for Israel and the Church "         
  • Whatever God said to Israel should never be applied to the church and vice versa.
(c) That for the last 2000 years (the "Church Age") he has only been working with the church, not with Israel. So the current dispensation is the Church Age.
 
(d) That God won't start working with Israel again until the church is taken out of the way - in the Secret Rapture, which will end the present dispensation to an end. So Darby believed the Rapture is important in God's purposes.
 
(e) That in the Millennium (the next "Dispensation") God will work with Israel.
 
To avoid confusion let me say these are Darby's views, not mine. I disagree with him and will say why later. If you want to impress your friends with technical language ...
 Darby taught "Dispensational Pre-millennialism" i. e. that there are various 'dispensations' (different ages) before (pre-) the Millennium. It's helpful to understand that terminology.
 
(Whilst dealing with complex language let me add that there is another form of premillennialism called "historic premillennialism" which has a lot more credibility. It is called 'historic' because many of the earliest Christian leaders believed it. It does not believe in a separate secret Rapture before the Great Tribulation, nor in dispensations).
 
Be careful not to read into the Bible what you want to find in it
 
Whenever we hold a special opinion there is a danger that we shall "read into" Scripture what is not actually there in Scripture. I think that is what those who defend this Secret Rapture view are in danger of doing. But we need to stand back and try to understand what the Bible actually does say, rather than what we want it to say.
 
Those who hold that the Rapture of believers into heaven can happen at any moment tend to argue from silence.

The New Testament nowhere says that there are two returns of Christ - the Rapture and then later the Second Coming. This distinction is actually based upon the fact that references to the Lord's return don't always include all the information. Some, like Matthew 24, speak of the signs which must happen before his return. Others don't. But that does not mean they are speaking of two different returns, one with signs and the other without. The only order of events found in the NT is the appearance of signs leading up to the Antichrist - the Great Tribulation - the Second Coming.
 

Passages some say are relevant

 
The main passage referring to the saints being "raptured" ("caught up") is 1 Thess 4:16-17 "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord for ever." These people interpret this as Jesus suddenly catching up all the believers and taking them up into heaven. However the passage only says we will be with the Lord for ever. It doesn't say where, except we meet him in the air/clouds.
 
When Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians (1 Thess. 4:16-17) he used the Greek word apantesis. Although we can't be certain, it seems likely that he had in mind the Greek approach to an official visit to a city by some dignitary. When such an important person visited the leading people and others would go out to meet him then escort him back into the city. It seems likely therefore that 1 Thess 4:16-17 means that believers are caught up to meet the Lord and escort him back to earth (not disappear with him to heaven). Many scholars agree with this view and, as we shall see, the general teaching of the NT seems to support it.
 
"'Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father's house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." (John 14:1-3)
 
Some think this clearly indicates that Jesus will return to rapture believers to heaven and the house with many rooms seems to refer to heaven. However:
 
(a)  Two days earlier Jesus had taught his disciples on the Mt of Olives (the Olivet Discourse) that there would be many signs before his return: the "birth-pains" of the coming of the Messiah - wars, famine, earthquakes etc., persecution and false prophets, the gospel being preached to the whole world and the Gentile domination of Jerusalem ending, the great distress (tribulation) and cosmic signs followed by his return to gather the elect from the four corners of the earth.
 
(b) This teaching would be fresh in the disciples' minds and we are surely right to assume that, in the absence of any statement to the contrary, they would understand John 14:3 as not a different return of Christ without signs or warning but as the same return he was speaking of on the Mt of Olives.
 
(c) The great promise of John 14:3 is that when Jesus returns believers will always be with him and that ultimately means in heaven. But that doesn't mean he will take them to heaven immediately
 
1 Thess 1:9-10 speaks of Jesus returning to rescue us from the coming wrath.
 
Some think this means Jesus will remove all believers to heaven so they don't experience the "wrath" of the Great Tribulation. But this is an assumption, it is not what the passage says. It could equally well mean God will help believers in difficult times and come and rescue them from the wrath of his ultimate judgment.
 
"Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, 'Peace and safety', destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.
For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Thess 5:1-9)
 
Some people say this destruction is the Great Tribulation and will only suddenly come on unbelievers because the church will have been "raptured" to heaven. However:
 
(a) This passage about destruction and wrath is continuous with 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 which speaks of the rapture of believers (the chapter division was not in the original).
 
(b) Paul warns BELIEVERS about the day of the Lord, which brings destruction, and says they must not be taken by surprise when it comes. "But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief" (1 Thess 4:4). Clearly, believers will not have been raptured away into heaven, they will experience this dark day.
 
(c)
'Day', as often in Scripture, means a period of time.
 
(d) This passage indicates that Paul describes that believers are caught up to meet the Lord and then escort him back to earth (not disappear with him to heaven).
 
"Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed." (1 Cor. 1:7)             
  • Some say the eager waiting may suggest an imminent rapture. But this is unconvincing.
"We wait for the blessed hope - the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13)
  • Some say the words "blessed hope" may suggest an imminent rapture. But this is unconvincing.
 "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure." (1 John 3:2-3)
  • Some say that an imminent "Rapture" would be a greater incentive for pure living. But the fact that we are one day going to stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10) is quite sufficient to encourage us to purify ourselves. In fact, it is a stronger incentive. Also we should remember that death could be imminent for any of us. That too is a strong motive.
 Jesus says: "Look, I am coming soon!" (Rev. 22:7,12, 20)
  •  Some think this points to the rapture as being imminent and ready to occur "at any moment." But the context of judgment. Jesus says "Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done." He goes on to refer to people who "wash their robes" so they may enter heaven as opposed to those who are sexually immoral, murderers, idolaters etc., (Rev. 22:14-15). Yet the secret rapture is not meant to be related to judgment."           
It is important to remember that those who believe in a sudden secret rapture say that it is not to do with judgement (which, they say, comes later). But we shall see that many NT passages thought to refer to the rapture actually do refer to judgment.
 
In Romans Paul says: "The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here."  (Rom. 13:11-12)        
  • This clearly speaks of the approaching return of Christ but it has nothing to say in support of a sudden secret rapture.
 
The letter to the Hebrews speaks of "Encouraging one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching." (Heb 10:23-25)             
  • Again, this is stressing that the return of Christ is approaching. But the context is about judgment. See Heb 10:26-31. Yet, as we have seen, the secret rapture is not meant to be related to judgment. That happens, say the proponents of this view, at the subsequent second coming.
 
James wrote: "The end of all things is near." (James 4:7-10)
  • However it has nothing to say in support of a sudden secret rapture.
James further stresses "the Lord's coming is near." ( In James 5:8-9)
  • He is even "standing at the door" but he does so as the Judge and the secret rapture is not meant to be related to judgment.
 
Jesus tells the parable of the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1-13) in which the bridegroom suddenly appears at midnight."
  • This cannot be understood as referring to a sudden secret rapture, though, because the foolish virgins (nominal believers) are excluded finally. So judgment takes place but those who teach there is a sudden secret rapture say it is not associated with judgment. (Furthermore, if it referred to the rapture, the foolish virgins would have the opportunity to come to faith in the Great Tribulation and so not to be excluded finally as the parable says they were). The same can be said for the similar parable in Luke 12:35-48 where the Lord's sudden coming is associated with judgment.
Jesus speaks of "The day the Son of Man is revealed"  (Luke 17:30-35) and adds: "I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding corn together; one will be taken and the other left."   
  • This is speaking about an unexpected coming of the Lord and a rapture of individuals. But, again, the context shows it is associated with judgment. See verses 26-30. So this cannot be the sudden, secret rapture.
 The writer to the Hebrews says:"In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay." (Heb 10:36-37).             
  • Yet again the context speaks of judgment (See Heb 10:24-31).
Peter says (2 Peter ch. 3) that God's ideas of imminence are not the same as ours.
  • The scoffers ask: "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." (2 Pet. 3-4). The answer is: "With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Pet. 8-9). However "The day of the Lord will come like a thief" (2 Pet. 3:10).

Tony HigtonRev. Tony Higton has been an Anglican clergyman for over 40 years having been brought up in the Christian Brethren and teaching. Now living in Norfolk he has previously served in Christ Church, Jerusalem where he was General Director of Church's Ministry amongst Jewish People (CMJ).  For 14 years Tony took a stand for Biblical doctrine and morality in the Church of England General Synod and was frequently on TV, radio and in the press.

Working along with his wife Patricia (who is also a theological graduate) he has recently launched a website offering hundreds of articles, training courses and several books to download for free. Of this new venture he says: "Resources on this site come from experience in developing teaching and training resources which have been shared at conferences in 15 countries and used by thousands of churches.”

As a 'work-in-progress Tony further comments: "“We shall be adding new material as time goes on, including, hopefully, audio material of our teaching courses etc."
See Christian Teaching Blog

 
Ed footnotes:
1. The Pre-tribulation Rapture
teaching was and has since been disseminated via the notes in the 'Scofield' Bible. As the article states, it has also been the subject of best-selling novels like 'The Late Great Planet Earth' and the 'Left Behind' series.

2. Questions/Responses and Answers
Tony Higton has kindly agreed to respond to questions or comments about what he has written. In the first instance these should be sent to the Editor who will append both the questions and responses to this article.                                                                            E-mail: e-mail address
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Admin Note:
  • In order to keep track of the discussion(s) a Ref. No. will be assigned to each post/question; and this no. will be used with relation to subsequent responses.
  • If using Scripture references (preferred, rather than quoting human writers) then it would be helpful to use the format ('Book then Chapter:Verse(s)' e.g. Genesis 1:1 or Gen 1:1-3 ). This will save me time in relation to providing  the 'verse pop-up' facility to function.
  • Remember please that the purpose is to 'pose questions' (rather than make statements).
With thanks for your help in producing an orderly 'Question Time' and in minimising the demands on Tony's time.

Update (06/05/14):
This article was open for a periiod for anyone to respond (i.e. to pose questions to Tony directly onto the site). However it is now only logged-on site members who can post.

Tony Higton, 27/02/2014

Feedback:
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Editor 29/08/2013 17:20
Ref. A002

Question to Tony:
>>>
Where does Tony fit the marriage of the Lamb? Where does Tony fit the judgement seat of Christ?
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Editor 31/08/2013 14:00
Tony replies to A002 (above):

>>>>>
I am wary of dividing up what Scripture may mean to be taken together. I do not see a great separation between Israel and the Church.

The only spiritual future for Israel is in Christ, within the body of Christ, the bride of Christ.

The New Jerusalem comes down "prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband" (Rev 21:2) and it has both the names of the tribes of Israel on its gates (Rev. 21:12) and of the apostles - all of whom were Jewish - on its foundations (Rev. 21:14).

The NT teaches that Israel and the Church are "one tree" in Rom 9-11.

* Gentile believers are grafted into God's one spiritual tree (with a Jewish root and trunk) - Rom 11:17-18; 15:17-18.
* Some branches (unbelieving Jews) have been removed from the tree.(Rom 9:6-8, cf. Rom 2:17-29).
It is only believing Jews who are part of true spiritual Israel. Obviously this includes the Old Testament saints. It also includes Jewish people who have come to faith in Jesus in the last 2000 years. They are part of the true (spiritual) Israel, the one olive tree, the true church.

*Paul says that if these unbelieving Jewish branches come to faith they can be re-grafted into the (one) olive tree (Rom 11:23-24). This is the only way of salvation for Israel.

* God has brought Jews and Gentiles together in one group, one new humanity, one body (Eph 2:14-16), one building, one temple, one dwelling for God to inhabit (Eph 2:21-22).

Similarly, I question separation between the judgment seat of Christ and the judgment of God (see 2 Cor 5:10 cf. Rom 14:10 where the two seem interchangeable).
<<<<<<<<

Ed footnote:
Tony has emphsised that his research is a 'work-in-progress' and further information regarding a means of engaging with it will be posted at the end of this Q&A exercise.
Editor 31/08/2013 14:03
Ref. A003

Question to Tony:
>>>>
You do get types and shadows of future events in scripture. So surely the picture of Enoch being translated to heaven before the flood judgement,is a picture of the rapture?
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Editor 31/08/2013 14:08
Tony replies to A003 (above):

>>>>>
I do believe that living believers will be raptured, like Enoch , but only in the way I described in my article.
<<<<<

Ed footnote:
See main article which states "Paul describes that believers are caught up to meet the Lord and then escort him back to earth (not disappear with him to heaven)".
Editor 01/09/2013 16:03
Ref. A004

Question to Tony:

>>>>>
You say in the article: "It is only believing Jews who are part of true spiritual Israel."

Could you say please what you mean by that in the context of there being no distinction between Jew and Gentile in the Church and also Rom 11:26-32 stating that 'All Israel' will be saved?
Editor 03/09/2013 09:30
Tony replies to A004 (above):

>>>>>>
I do not believe in Replacement Theology (belief that the church has replaced Israel in God's purposes. This is also called Supersessionism - the church supercedes Israel).

I do see (particularly from Romans 11) a distinct divine purpose for the Jewish nation - but only in Christ.

In Romans 9-11 Paul writes that:

* Only Jews who believe in Jesus are the true Israel not those who are just the physical children of Abraham (Rom. 9:6-8; 10:6-10)

* There is no difference between Jew and Gentile they both must take the same route to salvation (Rom. 10:11-13)

* God has not rejected Israel - there is still a "remnant" who are saved by grace (Rom 11:1-6).

* God has planned a spiritual revival amongst Jewish people whereby they will be re-grafted into the (one) spiritual olive tree into which believing Gentiles have been grafted, i.e. the church (Rom. 11:11-15; 17-18; 23-24).

* This will be at least a very extensive turning to Jesus by the Jewish people (Rom. 11:25-27)

* This will show that God's gifts and his call (to Israel) are irrevocable(Rom.11:28-29).

It is clear that God has preserved Israel as a nation (in accordance with prophecy) so that he can use them as a nation. But, unique and special though that will be, it still comes under the umbrella and mission of God's one and only church. God is dealing with Israel.

The Messianic Movement in Israel is a clear evidence of that (I had a lot to do with them in my years in Jerusalem).

However, the church - Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus - is spiritual Israel. It is the blossoming of the bud of OT Israel (admittedly, some bud!). The new covenant is the blossoming of the Abrahamic covenant. Gentile believers are the children of Abraham.

I do not see any necessity for the church to be removed in order for Jesus to use Israel. I can easily imagine a situation where Jesus is fulfilling his role over (believing) Israel whilst the rest of the church is worshipping and witnessing on earth.

So I really do not understand the comment: "The church has to be removed from the earth in order for Christ to restore his kingship with the nation of Israel."
[Ed note: Tony's comment here relates to a suggested separating distinction between the Jews and the church based on the observation that Jesus is referred to as "King of the Jews" but "Head of the Church" i.e. the Messiah performing different roles for different and discrete entities.]

I think I want to say about the church and believing Israel:
"What God has joined together, let no one separate"! Like a married couple the two are unique and different, but one "flesh", or should I say "body."
The relationship between Israel and the church is intimate unity in diversity.
<<<<<<<<

Ed footnote:
There is a prevalent view that "(believing) Jews are joined into the Gentile church" whereas the biblical picture - as Tony has outlined above - is the exact reverse of that: believing Gentiles are 'grafted into' the root stock which is Christ in the New Covenant which He made first with the Jews (Jer 31:31) not - in the first instance - with the Gentiles (Rom 1:16).
Editor 10/09/2013 09:45
Ref: 005A

Question to Tony:

Do you subscribe to 'Daniel's 70th week' whereby there will be a (future) 7 year period during which the Antichrist will appear first as in international peacemaker accepted by all (except Christians who know the Lord and His word) and then - in the second half of the week - show himself in his true colours?
Editor 13/09/2013 09:57
Tony replies to Question 005A (above):

>>>>>>
I believe that Christians are likely to face tribulation at any time. Many Christians are facing serious persecution in some 47 countries at the present time. It seems to me quite reasonable to expect that this will get worse in the time approaching the Return of Christ – Satan seeking to have his final fling, if you like. Furthermore, such an End Time tribulation is taught in Scripture. We should bear in mind that prophecy can be fulfilled more than once – an initial fulfilment and then a final major fulfilment. So prophecy about tribulation can have a fulfilment, for example, in the terrible treatment of the Jews by the Romans in AD 70 but Jesus speaks of “great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equalled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened” (Matt 24:21-22). This surely can’t be limited to AD70, terrible though it was. I think the Holocaust was worse. As for Christians, there have been terrible persecutions. So, yes, I believe there will be an End Time great tribulation.

Similar comments may be made about the Antichrist. After all, John says there are many antichrists (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7). So one fulfilment of the “abomination that causes desolation” could be the Roman desecration of the temple in AD70. But 2 Thess 2:1-12 describes a future “man of lawlessness” associated with the return of Christ, who is generally recognised as the End Time Antichrist. Then there are the references to the Beast in Revelation 13 which most scholars say was written well after AD70. John probably saw the beast as the persecuting Roman Empire but it seems clear, especially in the light of 2 Thess 2:1-12, that the ultimate fulfilment is in the End Time Antichrist. So, yes, I believe there will be an End Time ultimate manifestation of the Antichrist.

Daniel’s prophecy of 69 “sevens” (seven year periods) until an anointed one is put to death is interpreted by some as referring to events taking place in the second century BC. Be that as it may, it seems clear that it had a future fulfilment (in view of NT teaching), namely the “Anointed One” who would be put to death (Dan 9:25-26) is referring to the Messiah (although the phrase did not yet have that specific meaning). Also the prince who would then come and destroy the temple seems to refer to Titus the Roman general in AD70. (It can hardly refer to Antiochus Epiphanes who desecrated thetTemple in the second century BC but did not destroy either the temple or the city of Jerusalem).

There is some debate over the starting date of the prophecy of the 69 “sevens” (sevens of years, i.e. 483 years) before the Anointed One was killed (485BC or 445BC) but either way the figure of 483 years comes remarkably close to the time of Christ, although the figures are not absolutely precise.

Daniel then speaks of the 70th seven: “He will confirm a covenant with many for one “seven”. In the middle of the “seven” he will put an end to sacrifice and offering.” (Dan 9:27). Some see this as Christ (the Anointed One) fulfilling (and so ending) the OT sacrificial system, establishing the New Covenant. There are those who describe Jesus as ‘coming’ in AD70 in judgment to end the OT sacrificial system.

However, Dan 9:27 continues: “And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.” This cannot refer to the Messiah. Rather it applies to “the abomination which causes desolation” described by Jesus which occurs at a time of “great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equalled again” (Matt 24:15, 21) which, as I have said, I cannot accept ultimately refers to the desecration of the temple by Titus but must apply to the End Time great tribulation. Surely Dan 9:27 also applies to “the man of lawlessness” who “will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thess 2:3-4).

It therefore seems to me that the 70th seven of Daniel’s prophecy is quite separate from the other 69 sevens and belongs in the End Times. I am hesitant about taking numbers literally in the Book of Revelation because they are frequently used symbolically. However, it does seem credible to take the 69 sevens as literal seven year periods. If this is so then it is not wild speculation to regard the coming great tribulation as lasting seven years.
<<<<
Editor 14/09/2013 09:13
Ref. 006A Question to Tony:

>>>
Malachi 4:5 says:
"Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD".

How would you understand that verse, and where - if at all - does it fit in terms of end-of-days events?
<<<
Editor 14/09/2013 18:41
Tony replies to 006A (above):

>>>>
Jesus taught that John the Baptist fulfilled this prophecy – he is “Elijah.” See Matt 11:13-14 “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.” In Matt 17:10-12 “The disciples asked him, ‘Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?’ Jesus replied, ‘To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognise him, but have done to him everything they wished.”

Is it possible that there is a second future fulfilment of coming of Elijah? At Passover celebrations Jewish people set a place for Elijah and they send the children to see if he is coming. They expect Elijah to restore the tribes of Jacob.

Some Christians believe the two witnesses (who die) in Revelation 11:3-12 are Moses and Elijah, rather like their appearance at the transfiguration of Jesus (although Moses did die so he doesn’t seem a candidate for a witness who dies in the future).

Others believe the two witnesses are Elijah and Enoch because they are the two OT characters who were ‘raptured’ to heaven, rather than dying. Still others say the witnesses are other unknown believers and there have been various suggestions.

The fact is that we don’t know who the witnesses are because Scripture doesn’t say who they are. We cannot therefore be dogmatic. The only thing we can be sure of is that Jesus taught that John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecy.
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