The Real Rapture
The term "rapture" is not a biblical term. It is a theological term that many Bible teachers use to refer to harpazo, the "catching away" mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Like so many words, both biblical and otherwise, the problem is not in the terminology but in man's definitions and understanding. Words are only as good men's understanding of their meaning.
It will not be our intent or purpose to sling stones at the word "rapture," for the word itself is not the real problem. The problem is that the word has received its definition from men of the last two centuries who knew little or nothing about the Feast of Trumpets or of Tabernacles. Because of this, much of the Church has been taught that when Christ comes, the dead will be raised and immediately "raptured" to heaven, with the living saints close on their heels. But this is not what the feast days teach us. As we have already seen, the Feast of Trumpets prophesies about the resurrection of the dead, but the Feast of Tabernacles will not be fulfilled for another two weeks.
In the pattern of John 6 and 7, which we studied in chapter 7, we saw that Peter went out to meet Jesus in the middle of the lake, and that Jesus came to keep the Feast of Tabernacles in the middle of that feast. While we cannot say for sure when He will come, the patterns strongly suggest that Christ will come in the middle of the Feast of Tabernacles, and that, like Peter, the overcomers will be caught away to meet Him at that time. But this would be more than two weeks after the Feast of Trumpets.
It is plain from these patterns and laws that we need to take a fresh look at the second coming of Christ, a look that has a broad-based knowledge of both the Old and the New Testament. With that in mind, let us look at 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18,
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up [Greek: harpazo, "caught away"] together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
This passage does NOT say that as soon as they are raised from the dead they will be "caught away." This has been assumed by those who are unfamiliar with the Feast of Trumpets. Paul gives the order in which these events will happen, but he says little or nothing about the timing. Perhaps it is because the next verses (5:1, 2) say,
1 Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. 2For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.
These Thessalonian Christians already knew the times and seasons, because they were familiar with the feast days that establish those times and seasons. It is unfortunate, however, that Christians today know so little about the feast days. The lack of proper teaching has caused great portions of the Church to need the biblical material that Paul did not discuss in his letter. For this reason we have taken care to lay these foundations of teaching in the earlier chapters of this book. Like Paul, we too can say that we have no further need to repeat this material. We can, however, go to other Old Testament passages that Paul used as his resource material.
The First Law of Christ's Coming
From the beginning, the purpose of God in creation was to bring forth the sons of God in His own image. The first Adam failed to do so, because of sin. The second Adam, however, who is Jesus Christ, was destined to succeed in this purpose. Eve was taken from Adam; the Church was taken from Jesus' side. In the separation of man and woman, God created the need for marriage in order to bring the two back into a new type of unity. Genesis 2:22-24 then shows us HOW this unity was to be accomplished:
22 And the LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 And the man said, "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man." 24 For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
Note especially that it is the man who is to leave his father and mother. This is a prophetic statement, specifically applicable to the Second Adam as He comes to claim His bride. Christ must leave His Father (Yahweh) and Mother (El Shaddai) and come to earth to be united to His wife. (This is not to imply that Yahweh and El Shaddai are separate gods; they are simply male and female manifestations of one God. The distinction has to do with the way we relate to God, rather than a personal difference.)
In this sense, Jesus Christ had to leave heaven and come to earth to the home of the bride. It is NOT the case that the bride must leave her father and mother and go to heaven to the home of her Husband.
Thus, when Paul speaks of Christ's coming, He speaks of believers meeting Him in the air to escort Him to earth, but not of the believers going to heaven as their final home. The major purpose of creation and of history is for heaven to come to earth, for Christ to manifest Himself in earth, and for the glory of God to fill the earth. It is to establish His kingdom upon the earth, not to destroy the earth and set up a kingdom in heaven. His purpose is to bring forth spiritual flesh that manifests the glory of God, of which Moses was a type and Jesus our example.
God's statement in Genesis 2, quoted above, is the first major statement of intent that sets the prophetic pattern for Christ's coming. It does not, however, tell us the manner of His coming, nor any details of timing. These details are reserved for other prophets to learn in later centuries in a progressive revelation of truth. Yet no future revelation can contradict the basic law of the coming of Christ established at the beginning.
Patterns in Exodus 19 of Christ's Coming
It is customary for us to think of the presence of God on Mount Sinai as being the Father as distinct from the Son. We tend to think of Yahweh (i.e., "Jehovah") as being the God of the Old Testament, and Jesus Christ as the God of the New Testament. However, Exodus 15:2 and Isaiah 12:3 state that "Yahweh has become my salvation [Yashua]" (the Hebrew name for Jesus). Therefore, we can say that Jesus Christ was the incarnation of Yahweh, the God who revealed Himself to Moses in Exodus 6:2, 3, and the same God who gave the Law to Israel on Mount Sinai.
For this reason, we may say that Jesus Christ came to earth at Mount Sinai, taking upon Himself the appearance of Fire. In that coming, however, He was not incarnated in flesh and blood. For this reason, we do not normally call the Sinai manifestation a coming of Christ. What we mean is that it was not a flesh-and-blood coming through an incarnation. Even so, we should understand that there were patterns of Christ's coming set in the days of Moses at the foot of Mount Sinai.
Paul's understanding of Christ's second coming is drawn from a number of passages in the book of Exodus. The first is Exodus 19:18, which says,
18 Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. 19 When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. 20 And the LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.
Compare this passage with Paul's statement in the New Testament. In Exodus 19:18, "the Lord descended." In 1 Thessalonians 4:16 we read that "the Lord Himself will descend from heaven."
In Exodus 19:19, "the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder." In 1 Thessalonians 4:16 we read of "the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God."
In Exodus 19:20, "Moses went up" the mount which was covered by a cloud. In 1 Thessalonians 4:17 the saints are "caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air."
A comparison of Paul's statements with the book of Exodus shows clearly that Paul had studied Moses and knew that the pattern of Christ's second coming was laid many years earlier when Christ came to earth upon Mount Sinai.
Patterns in Exodus 24 of Christ's Coming
There are other passages in the book of Exodus that are remarkably similar to Paul's description of Christ's coming. This is because Moses actually went up and down the mount eight times. Each time he made a trip, Moses (who was a pattern of Jesus Christ--Acts 7:37) established more details in His pattern of Christ's second coming. Exodus 24:13-18 says,
13 So Moses arose with Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God. 14 But to the elders he said, "Wait here for us until we return to you. And behold, Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a legal matter, let him approach them." 15 Then Moses went up to the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 And the glory of the LORD rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; and on the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud. 17 And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the mountain top. 18 And Moses entered the midst of the cloud as he went up to the mountain; and Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
This sequence of events actually sets the pattern of Jesus' resurrection, ascension, and second coming. Note how verse 13 links Moses with Joshua, or Yashua (Jesus). "Moses arose," as it were, from the dead and then "went up to the mountain of God." Yet before ascending, he told the elders, "Wait here for us until we return to you." This is precisely what Jesus said to His disciples prior to His ascension in Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:4. They were to "tarry" in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them. Jesus then disappeared into a cloud, as we read in Acts 1:9,
9 And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.
Moses ascended and remained on the mount 40 days. Even so, Jesus ascended to heaven, where He lives to make intercession for us (Heb. 7:25). Moses remained on the mount for 40 days. It is possible that this is prophetic of the 40 Jubilees in which Jesus has remained in heaven since His ascension. A period of 40 Jubilees is 40 x 49 years, or 1,960 years. I believe He ascended in 33 A.D., so the 40 Jubilees ended in 1993 A.D. If there is anything to this, the time of His return could be quite near.
But Moses is also a type and shadow of the overcomers and not merely of Jesus Christ. If we view Moses' ascent from this perspective, then Moses' ascent contains patterns of our own ascent to meet the Lord in the air. We see from Exodus 24:16 that the cloud on the mount veiled the glory of God for six days. Then on the seventh day God called Moses to ascend the mount. This appears to prophesy that our ascension to meet Him and receive the law written on our hearts will occur at the beginning of the seventh day--that is, the seventh millennium from Adam. This was widely believed in the early Church. A study of timing, however, is not appropriate in this book. We have dealt more thoroughly with the chronology of history and its relation to the divine Jubilee calendar in our book, Secrets of Time.
How Do We Meet the Lord?
1 Thessalonians 4:17 says that we will "meet" the Lord in the air. The Greek word translated "to meet" is apantesis. Apantesis is the technical term that describes what the town leaders do when a very important person comes to visit them. They send a welcome delegation to meet him. But the delegation does not go back to the hometown of the visiting dignitary. Instead, they escort him to their own town.
This technical term is used in Matthew 25:1 and again in verse 6 in Jesus' parable of the ten virgins. Here we read,
1 Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went out to meet [apantesis] the bridegroom. . . . 6But at midnight there was a shout, "Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet [apantesis] him."
In the parable, the virgins had been waiting for the bridegroom to arrive to claim His bride. As He approached, the cry went out that the bridegroom was coming. Some went out to meet Him; others did not. They were all virgins--that is, all of them were believers. But some were overcomers, and others were not. Not everyone celebrated the marriage feast, which is the Feast of Tabernacles. Those who did not have enough oil (the Holy Spirit) had to go buy more oil at that late hour, but we read in verse 10,
10 And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut.
It is apparent from this verse that the bridegroom did not take the wise virgins to the place from whence he had come. Instead, the wise virgins escorted him to the place where they had been awaiting his coming. This is consistent with the meaning of the word apantesis, both in this parable and in 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
Another place where the word apantesis is used is found in Acts 28:15. It is the story of Paul's journey from Jerusalem to Rome as a prisoner:
15 And the brethren, when they heard about us, came from there as far as the Market of Appius and Three Inns [Greek: Taberne] to meet [apantesis] us; and when Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.
The Christians in Rome came to meet Paul as though he were a visiting dignitary. This was a great encouragement to Paul. Yet it is clear that Paul did not turn around and take these Christians back to Jerusalem. They met Paul and escorted him to Rome.
In this particular example, we have another hidden reference to the Feast of Tabernacles in the Greek text itself. The place of meeting was at the Three Inns. The word translated "Inns" is taberne. This is actually from the Latin word, taberna, which the Greek transliterates and adopts as its own. So hidden in the text itself is a link between the apantesis--meeting the Lord--and the Feast of Tabernacles. It suggests that we will meet the Lord during the Feast of Tabernacles, even as the brethren in Rome met Paul at the Three Inns.
There are other examples that illustrate the apantesis. In Matthew 14:22-34 the term, apantesis, is not actually used in the text, but the story does show the same principle. This is one of the passages we discussed earlier, where Jesus walked on the water to the disciples during the storm. Peter went out to meet Him and escorted Jesus to the boat. In our study of the Feast of Tabernacles we saw that this story is prophetic of the second coming of Christ, and Peter represents the overcomers. Peter went out to meet Jesus, but he then accompanied Jesus to the boat where the other disciples were. It is important to note that Jesus did not turn around and return to the other shore from whence He had come, and He certainly did not take Peter with Him to that other shore.
The meaning of the term, apantesis, supports the first law of Christ's coming found in Genesis 2:22-24, quoted earlier. It is clear that the Husband is leaving His home and coming to earth to live. The bridesmaids (virgins) go out to meet the Groom as He comes to claim His bride, but neither the bridesmaids nor the bride herself are expected to follow the Groom back to His heavenly home to live. The word, apantesis, as used in the New Testament, consistently shows us that it means to meet for the purpose of escorting an important person to his destination.
The Catching Away (Harpazo)
Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 that "we who are alive and remain shall be caught up [Greek: harpazo, "caught away"] together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air." The Greek word, harpazo, has been misunderstood, because most people have not viewed it through the eyes of the Feast of Tabernacles. John 7:14 shows us that Christ comes in the midst of Tabernacles. John 6:21 and Matthew 14:28-32 shows us that we will "meet the Lord in the air." Yet, as we have seen, Peter met Jesus, but Jesus did not take him back to the shore from which He had come. Instead, Peter met Him and, in effect, escorted Him back to the boat.
When they stepped into the boat, they all experienced the harpazo (John 6:21). They were transported to Capernaum (John 6:24), which served largely as the headquarters of Jesus' ministry. Because Capernaum means "the covering of the Comforter," it prophesies of the moment when the overcomers will receive the full covering of the Holy Spirit. This is the ultimate purpose of the eighth day of Tabernacles.
In the case of the disciples, it would almost appear that the "catching away" comes AFTER we go out to meet Him. After all, the boatload of disciples was caught away AFTER Peter and Jesus returned to the boat. However, it is plain that we are not to understand the story in that manner. After all, Paul says that the purpose of the harpazo is to meet the Lord in the air. We do not meet the Lord in the air only to experience the harpazo afterward.
Therefore, we must understand Peter's ability to walk on the water as the initial harpazo experience of the overcomers who meet Christ at His coming. After this, the overcomers--like the boatload of disciples--will have the permanent ability to translate from place to place at will, even as Jesus could do after His resurrection. They will be able to travel at the speed of thought from one part of the earth to another or between heaven and earth (i.e., between the spiritual dimension and this physical universe).
The Meaning of Peter's Harpazo
The story itself has allegorical meaning. Jesus ascended the "mountain" to pray, or to make intercession for us (Heb. 7:25). Meanwhile, He sent the disciples ahead of Him into the coming storm. In other words, the disciples were sent into the world, where they would experience tribulation and persecution at the hand of the political and religious systems of the world. Then Jesus came to them in the middle of the lake, walking on the water. This signifies His position of authority over all the nations, for Revelation 17:15 says that the waters represent "peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues."
We see, then, that Peter's ability to walk on the same water shows that the overcomers are to be given authority over the nations as well. The fact that Peter began to sink when he became afraid of the wind and the waves also shows us that his authority is based upon faith. He had to keep his eyes focused upon Jesus Christ, rather than upon the wind and the waves.
Fear seems to disqualify people from being overcomers. We also learn this from the laws of war in Deuteronomy 20:8 and from the story of Gideon, whose army was reduced considerably after the fearful were told to go home (Judges 7:3). Unfortunately, many Christians have been taught to fear the wind and the waves in order to keep them in the boat. More often than not, they are convinced to accept Christ out of fear of God's wrath, rather than being drawn by the manifestation of His love. Once in the church, they are then often taught to be afraid of listening to anyone other than their own denominational leaders or reading any books other than what is sanctioned by their own church. The leadership knows that people can be controlled through fear.
Fear of cults has probably kept more Christians in ignorance of the Word than any other factor. Many denominational leaders deliberately teach Christians to fear the wind and waves outside their denominational boat, thinking they are protecting their flock from danger. They assume that their denomination knows all the truth that is important. Going by that assumption, they try to prevent the people from learning anything beyond that level of truth. So in the guise of protecting the sheep, they build a wall around them that can easily turn into a prison wall.
Fear may indeed motivate some to become Christians. Fear is also very effective in keeping people from dropping their church membership. But fear will not create overcomers. Overcomers are Christian believers who do not fear the wind and waves and are willing to walk through it and, like Peter, walk upon it. The other major factor in defining overcomers is that they are forgivers, knowing and living the principle of the Jubilee. We wrote of this at the end of chapter three, and in more detail on pages 10-14 of our book, Secrets of Time.
The Meaning of Philip's Harpazo
In the eighth chapter of Acts we read how Philip preached the gospel in Samaria. From there, the Spirit led him to the desert to meet with an Ethiopian eunuch who happened to be reading from Isaiah 53 without understanding what he was reading. Philip explained the Scriptures to him and baptized him. In Acts 8:39 and 40 we read,
39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched [Greek: harpazo] Philip away; and the eunuch saw him no more, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus; and as he passed through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities, until he came to Caesarea.
The same Greek word (harpazo) that is used of Philip's translation is what we find in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Philip was "raptured" but did not leave the earth in that sense. He was transported from one place to another. He had the same experience that the disciples had when Jesus came to the boat in the middle of the sea of Galilee. Philip suddenly found himself near the town of Azotus (i.e., Ashdod). Then he preached the gospel from there all the way to Caesarea.
This story is also a prophetic allegory. Philip and Stephen represent the two works of Christ in Acts 6-8. Stephen portrays the first work of Christ, in that he was called to be a martyr as a witness to Christ. He was stoned by Jews that were defending their religious system from the new "cult," with Saul consenting to or applauding his death (Acts 8:1).
On the other hand, Philip portrays the second work of Christ and its success in preaching the Word to all nations. Philip experiences the harpazo, the "catching away." He successfully preaches first to the Samaritans, then to the Ethiopian Eunuch. From there the Word goes to the old Philistine city of Ashdod (Azotus). From Ashdod, Philip preaches all the way to Caesarea, a city built and named by King Herod in honor of Augustus Caesar. The Roman procurators of Palestine had homes there, and most of its citizens were Greeks. In this way the story is prophetic of the overcomers at the time of the second coming of Christ, who, by preaching the Word under the full anointing of the Spirit, are able to bring all things under the feet of Christ.
This story is similar to Jonah's success in preaching to Nineveh. Both stories prophesy about the word of God going to the whole world until the kingdoms of this world fully recognize the glory and sovereignty of Jesus Christ and His right to rule the earth. This will be realized in the Age of Tabernacles that is now upon us.
The Meaning of the Manchild's Harpazo
In Revelation 12:1-5 we read,
1 And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; 2 and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth. 3 And another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. 4 And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven, and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child. 5 And she gave birth to a son, a male child ["manchild" in the KJV], who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up [harpazo] to God and to His throne.
The birth of Jesus Christ was the original pattern of the scene described here in Revelation 12. When He was born, King Herod (inspired by the red dragon) attempted to kill Him. Herod was half-Edomite and half-Judahite. Edom means "red." Herod was, therefore, a manifestation of the red dragon in Jesus' day. Mary fulfilled the part of the woman giving birth to Jesus; and, of course, Jesus was the original manchild, or "male child" of the prophecy.
Jesus Christ was to "rule all nations with a rod of iron" (12:5). But the important point to see in our present study is the fact that the harpazo was fulfilled in His ascension to His throne in heaven. The NASB (above) says He was "caught UP," but in reality the word means "caught AWAY." Strong's Concordance gives "to seize" as its meaning. Vine's Expository Dictionary says it means "to snatch or catch away." The word is derived from haireomai, which means "to choose by vote, or elect to office." In 2 Thessalonians 2:13 Paul uses this word, saying,
13 But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen [haireomai] you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.
In other words the word implies God's election to a position of authority. Matthew 12:18 uses a different form of the same word, saying of Jesus, "Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen." This is the sense in which Revelation 12:5 uses the term harpazo. Jesus Christ was caught away to the throne of God, because He was the One chosen to rule all nations with the rod of iron. That is, God snatched or caught Him away to the throne, because He was the One chosen, or elected, to rule all nations.
This prophecy in Revelation 12 is also a prophetic pattern for the corporate birth of the sons of God, followed by their ascension to the throne. There is no reason to think that this ascension must be one in which the believers defy gravity and rise outside of earth's atmosphere and travel to a heavenly land beyond the moon. There is no reason to insist that these believers are going to GO to some other planet, star, or heaven beyond the solar system. Heaven is not a piece of real estate in outer space having castles and meadows on it, nor is it a huge space ship as some have imagined.
Heaven is dimensional, not locational. We need to understand that spiritual things, spiritual beings, and spiritual locations are unlike our three-dimensional world. The Bible draws word pictures in earthly terms only to help us comprehend spiritual or heavenly things.
The real rapture is an ascension to the throne, a position of authority to which God has called the overcomers by His sovereign choosing. It is unfortunate that the concept of the harpazo was given such a carnalized concept that it required theologians to coin a new word, "rapture." The terms "ascension" or "caught away" were no longer adequate to describe men's new views in the past 150 years. So they began to speak in terms of a "rapture." Yet even so, this new term comes from the Latin word, raptus, which literally means "seized." As we have already seen, this is identical to Strong's definition of harpazo. Hence, we have no problem with the word "rapture." The problem has come when men have defined the word without understanding the Feast of Tabernacles.
Meeting the Lord in the Air and in the Clouds
1 Thessalonians 4:17 says that when we are caught up, we will meet Him "in the air." Does this mean in the upper atmosphere or simply above ground? Frankly, Paul does not define "air" either way in this passage. Because Paul says that we will meet Him together "in the clouds," the coming of Christ has generally been pictured as coming from outer space. It has been assumed that the believers would meet Him somewhere many miles above the face of the earth, perhaps in the stratosphere.
First, the Greek word translated "air" is aer, of which Strong's Concordance says, "from aemi, (to breathe unconsciously, i.e., respire; by analogy, to blow)." The word is used in Acts 22:23,
23 And as they were crying out and throwing off their cloaks and tossing dust into the air [aer].
Take note that the dust did not go into the upper atmosphere. The air here was only a few feet off the ground, and the dust probably covered everyone present. Used in this context, aer means above the ground where people can breathe, as opposed to underground where men might suffocate. 1 Corinthians 9:26 tells us the same thing:
26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air [aer].
In other words, Paul says that he was not merely "shadow boxing" in his efforts to follow Christ. The picture of shadow boxing shows that one could beat the air that was within reach of a boxer. The word was not used to indicate the upper atmosphere a few miles above the earth. Paul goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 14:9 that if people speak in tongues that are not understood, they are just speaking into the air. All of these examples show that the aer refers to above ground, as opposed to underground.
But what about the CLOUDS? Does this not indicate that we will meet Christ in the upper atmosphere?
Paul's reference to the "clouds" comes from the fact that Moses went up to meet the Lord in the cloud on Mount Sinai. Clouds are symbolic of a number of things. The word itself comes from the Greek word, nephele. It comes from the root word, nephos. Vine's Expository Dictionary says that it
"denotes a cloudy, shapeless mass covering the heavens. Hence, metaphorically, of a dense multitude, a throng, Heb. 12:1."
The word, nephele, can mean the physical clouds, but the Bible uses the term much more often in a figurative manner. Hebrews 12:1 uses the term to refer to "so great a cloud [i.e., a crowd] of witnesses surrounding us," which is figurative of the Old Testament overcomers listed in Hebrews 11. Also, Jesus speaks of the day of His appearing, "coming on the clouds of heaven." (Matt. 26:64). Many interpret this literally. However, a closer look at the passage seems to support a more figurative interpretation:
64 Jesus said to him, "You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, [dunamis, "power"] and coming on [epi, "upon"] the clouds of heaven."
Jesus was talking to the Sanhedrin and the high priest, Caiaphas, who was about to sentence Him to death on the charge of blasphemy. One might ask how could these unbelievers in the Sanhedrin later see Christ "sitting at the right hand of Power"? We know from Acts 7:55 that Stephen saw Jesus Christ standing at the right hand of God in glory, but it is questionable if these unbelievers might have had the same vision. It seems best to take this in conjunction with the last part of the verse, where He is also said to be "coming on the clouds of heaven."
We interpret this to mean that the Son of Man is seated at the right hand of Power, from which position He can come upon the great cloud (crowd) of witnesses at the Feast of Tabernacles. These are the "clouds of heaven" and they are figuratively seated with Him in heavenly places even now, for Paul says in Ephesians 2:6,
6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus.
In one sense the clouds are the overcomers in whom and upon whom Christ comes. The power of His throne is to be given to these believers. Jesus was really telling Caiaphas that he and his Sanhedrin would be deposed and replaced by the authority of the Son of Man and the cloud of His witnesses.
This began on the day of Pentecost and will conclude with the fulfillment of Tabernacles. Jesus had told the disciples that they would receive "power" (dunamis) after the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 1:8). Since Pentecost is an earnest of the Spirit and is, in effect, a pledge of the fullness that is to come at Tabernacles, we can look to the events of Acts 2 to see the pattern of what is yet to come. If the disciples in the upper room (and those who came after them) were given "power" at Pentecost, then a greater portion of power should be given at the fulfillment of Tabernacles.
Hence, it seems that Jesus standing on the right hand of Power is the source of power in the overcomers under both Pentecost and, ultimately, Tabernacles. This is how He comes upon the clouds of heaven. It is probably not to be fulfilled up in the sky as we might picture it. Both Paul and Jesus used symbolic word pictures that were not supposed to be taken literally. They spoke of clouds first to draw the reader's attention to Moses, who ascended the mount into the cloud, and secondly to show that the Kingdom was established at the mouth of a great crowd (and cloud) of witnesses.
If it proves to be the will of God that Christ comes on a literal cloud above the earth, then so be it. The manner of His coming is up to Him. But this empowerment to rule and reign with Christ upon the earth does NOT have to be "up there." The origin of this power is from heaven, but the place of rulership is "on the earth" (Rev. 5:10). The purpose of rulership, authority, and power is to spread the gospel and the borders of His Kingdom until it fills the whole earth.
From these examples we see that we have no compelling reason to assume that we will leave the ground to meet Christ in the upper atmosphere. The dead will be raised first, of course, and this indicates that they will be "in the air" as opposed to underground. He comes upon the clouds, the crowds of witnesses--NOT upon the unbelieving rulers, such as the Sanhedrin.
We believe that the clouds of overcomers from past ages will be in the air above the ground at the Feast of Trumpets two weeks before the beginning of the Feast of Tabernacles. It seems reasonable to assume that these resurrected overcomers will be united in some way with the living overcomers of that day. Thus, ALL the overcomers will stand upon the earth "in the air." Then, two and a half weeks later at the appointed time in the middle of the Feast of Tabernacles, Christ will manifest Himself to them, and they will be changed by beholding Him, even as Moses' face was changed at Sinai. Those who are changed will then finish the work that began with Pentecost. The Great Commission of preaching the Gospel to all nations will then begin anew with a greater anointing than that received in Acts 2.
Where Will We Ever Be With the Lord?
One often hears a strange contradiction in Church teaching today. In one breath the preacher speaks of heaven as our eternal home, while later he speaks of reigning on the earth during the Millennium. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 and 18,
17 . . . and thus [houto, "in this manner"] we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
Paul says that in this manner we will BE with the Lord. He does not say that in this manner we will "go" or even be "caught away. In other words, we will remain in His presence. We will be with Him at all times. We will enter into the Holy of Holies into His very presence and remain there with Him, not coming for a temporary visit once a year like the high priest of Aaron. No matter what we do or where we go, we will be with Him, because His presence will be fully upon us and in us. Wherever we go from that time forward, His presence will be in us as fully as it was in Jesus Christ when He walked the earth and ministered to those in need.
We will not be in outer space at a place called "heaven." Heavenly conditions will come to earth and focus particularly upon the overcomers who fulfill the Feast of Tabernacles. These will receive spiritual bodies like Jesus had after His resurrection. In this way Matthew 5:7 will be fulfilled, saying in the NASB, "Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth." Revelation 5:10 says that "we shall reign on the earth." Peter says that the earth and its works (business, employment, work) will be burned up (2 Peter 3:10), but three verses later he says,
13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.
If Peter had spoken only of going to heaven or the heavens, we might be able to say that men will no longer inhabit the earth. However, he does not say that the promise is for us to dwell in heaven--not even in the new heavens. The fact that there is going to be a "new earth" shows that there will still be a distinction between heaven and earth. The word "new" means, in respect to form, "recently made, unused, fresh, unworn." In respect to substance, it means "of a new kind, unprecedented, novel, unheard of." The new heavens and the new earth will be something new or unprecedented in the earth.
It does not necessarily indicate a new planet. The business and work of the old earth will be changed to reflect the will of God and His kingdom. That will be a new thing in the earth. The law of God has never been implemented on a wide scale for any length of time, because men were so corrupt that they continually revolted against it. In the new earth, however, there will truly be a New World Order, not as man would establish, but according to the will and mind of God. The old order will be consumed by the fire of the divine law and the glory of God, which will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
At Sinai, God came to earth. In the New Testament, Christ came to earth. And He will yet come to earth again. In each case the direction is always from heaven to earth, each time with an increased gift of anointing for His people. It is not that we go to heaven, but that He comes to earth. The reason is clear. He comes to save people and to teach them of His ways. He comes in the manifestation of the Feast of Tabernacles not only to change men by beholding His face, but so that they can in turn walk the earth to minister to others, preaching the word, and converting "Nineveh."
In ancient times heaven was pictured as "the heavens," and over the years men began to believe that the stars were the saints dwelling in the heavens. The ancient religions taught that the visible planets were gods who inhabited their respective planes. The stars were thought to be on a single plane beyond the planets, almost like a canopy. Each star had its "glory" (magnitude). We now know that the "glory" of stars is explained by both size and distance, and we know that they are not saints dwelling in the heavens.
Heaven is as close to us as a single step. When Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, He did not have to travel a long distance from one end of the universe to the other. All He had to do was (as Ezekiel says) change from His linens into His woolen clothing. He simply moved from a spiritual dimension to the physical. When Jesus was finished talking with His disciples, He changed His clothing and ascended to the higher dimension. This was an ascension, but He did not need to go "up" among the stars.
We conclude, then, that meeting the Lord in the air means that both the dead and the living saints together will meet Him here on earth, but not underground and not in outer space where there is no air. The dead will be raised to fulfill Tabernacles.
Caleb and Joshua were overcomers in Moses' day. God's promise to them was that they would be alive to enter the Promised Land. Since they only had to wait another 38 years for this promise to be fulfilled, God was easily able to keep them alive during that time, although the rest of their generation died in the wilderness. With us, the Church in the wilderness has had a longer fulfillment of 40 Jubilees. During this time, many overcomers have lived and died, but the promise is the same to them. They must be alive "in the air" when the day comes to enter their Promised Land. This is why the dead must be raised FIRST. All the overcomers must be alive on earth to fulfill Tabernacles and meet Him in the air.
Paul tells us to "comfort one another with these words." The verb that is translated "comfort" is parakleo. It literally means to call to one's side for help, comfort, or advice. Its noun form is parakletos, or "comforter." This word is often used to describe a defense attorney who is called to aid in defending someone in court. Jesus told the disciples that He would send the Parakletos to us after His ascension. The NASB translates the word "Helper" in John 14:26,
26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
In other words, Paul is telling us to help and comfort others with these words, even as the Holy Spirit helps and comforts us. It appears to be a play on words, in that the coming of Christ brings a new anointing of the Holy Spirit to help us complete the work of teaching all nations. Therefore, "comfort" each other with these words of hope in expectation of what God will do.
Who Will Be Taken, and Who Will Be Left?
In Matthew 24 Jesus gave His well-known dissertation regarding His second coming. In verses 37-41 He tells the disciples:
37 For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. 38 For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39 and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. 40 Then there shall be two men in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. 42 Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.
It is commonly taught today that Jesus was referring to the "rapture" in which the Church will be snatched out of the earth for some years while a great tribulation occurs on the earth. But in fact, this passage teaches precisely the opposite. It will be like in the days of Noah. Men will be living life as usual and would not understand the plan of God or believe the warnings of the prophets. Even as the flood removed all the unbelievers from the earth in Noah's day, "so also shall the coming of the Son of Man be."
Who was taken? Who was removed from the earth? Certainly not Noah and his family. It was the WICKED who were taken, leaving just Noah and his family to inherit the earth. So shall it be once again. One will be taken, and another left. Once again the wicked will be removed from the earth, but the meek will inherit the earth. Proverbs 2:22, 23 tells us,
21 For the upright will live in the land [erets, land or earth], and the blameless will remain [yathar, "to remain or be left behind"] in it; 22 But the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the treacherous will be uprooted from it.
We are clearly told here that the promise to the righteous is to be left behind, not to be removed from the earth. Christ is coming to uproot the wicked from the earth that He created and which He will fully rule. He is coming as a flood, but this time it is the flood of the Holy Spirit that will bring a baptism of fire upon the earth. The first flood was designed to remove the breath, or spirit, of life from all men (Gen. 6:17). After this flood, God made a covenant with Noah, his sons, and the whole earth, saying He would not do this again (Gen. 9:9-17). Yet later God said in Habakkuk 2:14,
14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
In other words, there will be a second flood, but its purpose will not be to destroy, or to remove the spirit of life from men. Its purpose will be to regenerate all flesh by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a baptism of fire. As in the days of Noah, this second flood will take the earth by surprise. Those who are incorrigible in this present age will be removed from power and ultimately confined to a portion of the earth that is outside the boundary of the Kingdom of God. This is the "outer darkness" that Jesus mentioned in His parables. But even this will not be a permanent state of affairs, because ultimately, the Kingdom of God will fill the whole earth as the waters cover the sea. Since water covers the entire sea, this means that the glory of God is going to cover the entire earth.
As the Tabernacles Age continues, the fire of God will be so powerful that the vast majority of the people will be converted and begin to learn of His ways. Then will be fulfilled the words of the prophet in Isaiah 2:2-4,
2 Now it will come about that In the last days, the mountain of the house of the LORD will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; and all the nations will stream to it. 3 And many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways, and that we may walk in His paths." For the law will go forth from Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4 And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war.
The wicked will either be removed, executed for their crimes, or (in most cases, I believe) converted to Christ by the baptism of fire. This will cleanse and purify the earth, making a place fit to be His footstool (Matthew 5:35).
No doubt there will be "tribulation" associated with this transition from the old order to the new. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5 that He will come as a thief in the night. In ancient times, a thief in the night was not a cat-burglar who might silently creep into a house to steal jewelry and then slip away into the night unseen and unheard. We recommend that Christians read the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves to obtain a more realistic view of Paul's prophecy. Bands of thieves would descend upon a sleeping town like raiders in the night. And so we read in 1 Thessalonians 5:2-6,
2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3 While they are saying, "Peace and safety!" then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief; 5 for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; 6 so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober.
Paul pictures the world as sleeping peacefully in darkness, thinking they are safe. But they are unaware that sudden destruction is coming upon them "like a thief in the night." The city is about to be destroyed, and that city is "Babylon." Babylon is no longer a literal city as it was many years ago. It is now representative of the present world order that is in opposition to the law of God and the rulership of Christ. The city is about to be crushed by a Stone cut out of the mountain by the hand of God alone, and Babylon will never again rise to power and oppress the people of the earth.
When Will Every Eye See Him?
In Revelation 1:7 John tells us,
7 Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. Even so. Amen.
This is simply a statement of fact. The verse does not attempt to tell us WHEN everyone will see Him, nor even HOW. We do have Peter's testimony in Acts 3:20, 21, where he speaks of the "times of refreshing," and "restoration of all things." Peter seems to indicate that Christ must remain in heaven until these times occur:
19 Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; 20 and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, 21 whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. 22 Moses said, "The Lord God shall raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed in everything He says to you. 23 And it shall be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people."
These times of refreshing and restoration are not moments in history, but long periods of time in the ages to come. The beginning of these times coincide with the second coming of Christ, when the overcomers fulfill the Feast of Tabernacles. The fulfillment of this feast is, in effect, the authority to enter the Holy of Holies, breaking through the third and final veil that separates us from God and hides His glory. Hence, it seems to us that the only way men will actually see Christ in His glory will be as they come into the Feast of Tabernacles.
This will take place over a period of time. Most of us are accustomed to thinking that when Jesus comes, He will do everything immediately. All the wicked will be destroyed, and the righteous taken to heaven. This simplistic view has prevented us from fully appreciating the great Sabbath millennium, where God brings the earth into a time of rest under His rule. We believe that the overcomers will be the only ones raised from the dead and glorified on the eighth day of Tabernacles toward the beginning of this thousand-year period. We also believe that the rest of the Church will come into the Tabernacles experience at the beginning of the eighth thousand-year period. This will be in the early days after the Sabbath millennium.
The distinction between these two resurrections in Revelation 20 points to the idea that not all Christians will come into perfection at the same time. It strongly suggests that the Church will need to continue learning and progressing in the path of righteousness that moves from Passover to Pentecost to Tabernacles. In other words, Christians who have developed only partially in their walk with God will not be able to see the glory of God in the Holy of Holies until they have learned the lessons that each feast was designed to teach them. They will not be allowed to act in a lazy fashion, saying, "It does not matter what I do, since we will all be glorified at the same time when Jesus comes."
Nonetheless, all may certainly see Christ in the overcomers as they manifest Christ's character and do His works in the earth. Jesus said that they would do greater works than He did (John 14:12). In a very real sense, these overcomers have a calling to be Christ's great "cloud of witnesses." We read in Revelation 1:7, quoted earlier, "Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him." If we take those clouds to indicate His witnesses, the overcomers, then the verse could mean that at first He will manifest His glory only through those witnesses.
Jesus said if you see Me, you have seen the Father. In the same manner also, when a perfected, glorified overcomer, you have seen Jesus Christ.
A cloud not only manifests the glory of God, but it also hides or veils His glory. Remember that Jesus' flesh was the veil that hid the glory of God while He walked this earth (Heb. 10:20). Even so, the overcomers--who are His body--are also a veil that covers His glory. When the rest of the people see them in the earth, they are seeing Christ's body, but not His full glory. They manifest Him even as Jesus manifested the glory of the Father. John 14:
8 Philip said to Him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." 9 Jesus said to him, "Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, 'Show us the Father'? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. 11 Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me; otherwise believe on account of the works themselves. 12 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father."
The Father was manifested in Jesus Christ. Jesus made it clear to Philip that no one would see the Father except as manifested in Jesus Christ. In the same manner, Jesus applied the principle to the disciples, promising that one day they would do greater works than He did. The implication is that they, too, would manifest Christ to the world, and that Christ would be IN THEM. So it would seem that in the second coming of Christ, only the overcomers will know and see Christ in His glory, and that others will see Christ veiled by the cloud of witnesses.
In like manner, the overcomers will both manifest and hide His glory from those who are not yet capable and qualified to view the glory of God in its full magnitude. These overcomers will have spiritual bodies like Jesus had after His resurrection, and they will appear to others as normal people with abnormal wisdom and deeds. They will manifest the glory of God to others in the outer court dressed in their "woolen" clothing, as Ezekiel says. In fact, Ezekiel 44:19 makes it clear that when the overcomers minister to others who are yet in the flesh (outer court), they MUST lay aside their linen clothing first. This is comparable to Moses, who taught the people with a veil over his face. He was required to veil the glory that appeared in him, because the people could not stand to view the glory of God at that point in their lives.
Jesus Christ has always been present upon the earth. He created all things, and He has never left the earth in that sense. Yet Jesus said He must leave. But then He told the disciples that He would never leave them nor forsake them (Heb. 13:5). Yet He also told them that He must leave them in order to send them "another Comforter" (John 14:16). This can be quite confusing to the average Christian. Is He here or not?
The question is not whether He is on earth or not. It is really a question of His manifestation. He has not fully manifested Himself on earth yet. He has not yet stepped out from behind the veil. He is still veiled by clouds, because the earth is not yet ready to behold His full glory.
Thus, the coming of Christ cannot imply that He ever really left the earth. He was taken from our sight by the clouds. He veiled Himself with clouds of witnesses, so that to see Him, one must look at His body. And yet, God's ultimate purpose is to expose Himself, in His naked glory, to the whole earth. This will happen in stages, as the rest of mankind follows the path from the outer court to the Holy of Holies. The overcomers are those who came into this full maturity first, but they are certainly not the only ones who will behold His glory at the end of time.
In other words, we believe that Jesus Christ will indeed manifest His presence on earth. But it seems most likely that the majority of the earth's population will see Him veiled by the overcomers until they have matured in Christ and can bear the full weight of the glory of God. The clouds of witnesses will be Christ's clothing, as it were. When a person is fully clothed, we view his clothing, rather than the person himself. And yet we are accustomed to saying that we saw the person. So it is with Christ.
There are some who recognize these things, but conclude that Jesus Christ will not come in person, but "come" only through His saints or through the Church. Others go so far as to say that Jesus Christ is no longer an individual that is distinct from His body. We believe that these views take the point too far. In our view, Jesus Christ will always remain distinct from mankind. The head and the body must join together as one, but the head will always be the head, and the body will always be the body. Jesus Christ will marry the bride, and yet remain distinct from them in the same sense that a husband and wife are united as one and yet remain distinct.
Jesus Christ is coming again as a distinct individual. However, Jesus has been here since the beginning of time. The problem is that from the advent of sin, God had to hide His glory from mankind, lest he be destroyed. The purpose of Christ's coming is not to change locations, but to manifest Himself by degrees from the spiritual dimension into the physical universe. This will continue until the whole earth is full of His glory.
These are the times of refreshing and restoration of all things prophesied in Acts 3, which we quoted earlier. The heavens must receive Christ UNTIL these times. When Christ comes, it is heaven itself coming to earth, for where He is, there is heaven. His presence itself transforms earth into heaven, and we know that ultimately His glory will cover the earth, making it a new earth that is heavenly. But this will be a process of time, and as men mature and grow up into Christ, they will come fully into His presence and manifest His glory. In that sense, Christ must remain in the realm or spiritual dimension called "heaven" until the whole earth manifests His glory. Only then will all things be refreshed and fully restored. Then we can truly say that Christ has come to earth in the fullest possible sense.
The Unveiling and the New Covenant
The unveiling of Jesus Christ is happening in stages of development. When we speak of the glory of God coming to earth, we are really saying that the glory of God is being unveiled more and more in the earth. When there are no more veils hiding the glory of God, and all behold Him as He truly is, seated upon His throne in the Holy of Holies, then His glory will fully cover the earth. Then will be fulfilled the terms of the New Covenant, which is written in Hebrews 8:10-12,
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them upon their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 11 And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, and everyone his brother, saying, "Know the Lord," for all shall know Me, from the least to the greatest of them. 12 For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more."
When all know Him, then every eye will see Him and the glory of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. Then will come to pass the word prophesied in Isaiah 45:22-25,
22 Turn to Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. 23 I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance. 24 They will say of Me, "Only in the LORD are righteousness and strength." Men will come to Him, and all who were angry at Him shall be put to shame. 25 In the LORD all the offspring of Israel will be justified, and will glory."
The Apostle Paul echoes the word in full agreement, saying in Philippians 2:10, 11,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Again, the Apostle agrees with Isaiah 45:25 above, saying in Romans 10:26, 27,
26 and thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, "The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. 27 And this is My [new] covenant with them, when I take away their sins."