The Missing Church
The true Church of Jesus Christ is a mystery! It’s not an organization but an organism, living and vitally connected to its risen Head, the Lord Jesus. Paul wrote these astounding words in Ephesians 3 to announce that God had revealed a new truth to him: “How that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery. . .Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel” (Ephesians 3:3,5-6).
No Church in Old Testament
As you peruse the pages of the Old Testament, you will look in vain to find the Church. The Church was a mysteryconcealed in past ages but now revealed. God has taken Jew and Gentile, and through the death and resurrection of His Son, He has saved them and baptized them in one Spirit into the Body of Christ, the Church.
In the New Testament sense, a “mystery” is something that was formerly kept secret but is now made known. The Church itself was a mystery revealed unto the apostles. And there is another mystery associated with God’s program for the Church that has also been revealed. We read: “Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor.15:51,52).
Paul had written the church in Corinth to correct a number of problems, such as division, carnality, and open sin. Human nature must have reacted much the same then as it does now. No doubt some of the believers were genuinely concerned about the sin, while others showed a sleepy disinterest. Can you imagine what the reaction was in the assembly when this part of the letter from Paul was read? If there had been some dozing saints, this would have awakened them: “Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep.” Something kept secret in past ages was now being revealed through the apostle.
Tribulation No Mystery
The truth that a time of great judgment will come upon this earth, climaxed by the return of the Son of God to judge the nations was no mystery. The Old Testament provides ample proof that these apocalyptic judgments are inevitable. Isaiah wrote: “Come near, you nations, to hear; and harken, you people: let the earth hear, and all that is therein; the world, and all things that come forth from it. For the indignation of the Lord is upon all nations, and His fury upon all their armies; He has utterly destroyed them, He has delivered them to the slaughter” (Isaiah 34:1,2).
Daniel, Joel, and Amos are among the prophets who foretold this time of judgment. Zechariah was in agreement when he said: “Behold, the day of the Lord comes, and your spoil shall be divided in the midst of you. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle. . .Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when He fought in the day of battle” (Zechariah 14:1-3).
Resurrection No Mystery
The Old Testament saints believed in a resurrection. Therefore, when Paul wrote about it to New Testament believers, he was not revealing a mystery. Hebrews 11:19 tells us that Abraham was directed to offer his son as a sacrifice. He obeyed, “accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead.” And Joseph believed in the resurrection of the body. Just before his death, he said to his brethren, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here” (Genesis 50:25). He made this provision because he believed in a future resurrection.
What then was the mystery of which Paul spoke in 1 Corinthians? It was not judgment, not resurrection. The apostle was referring to the transformation of both living and dead saints that will occur at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ for His church. All who are in Him will be “caught up” to meet Him in the air! The “mystery” is expressed in these words: “We shall not all sleep.” Paul was saying that we shall not all die. An entire generation of believers in Christ will not experience physical death, but will be translated at the Rapture. The world thinks that death is inevitable for everyone. “No!” Paul says, “I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall ALL be changed.” What excitement must have spread through the Corinthian church when they heard the new revelation!
This interpretation is confirmed by what Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 4. These may be familiar verses to you, so read them as if you have never read them before. What a glorious truth this must have been to the believers, both at Corinth and in Thessalonica!
“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that you sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
The Church will suddenly be missing from the earth! This corresponds in time to what was revealed in Revelation 4. The apostle John had been commanded to “write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter” (Revelation 1:19). In Revelation 1, John wrote what he had seen, the risen Christ walking among the lampstands. In chapters 2 and 3, he presented the things which are a spiritual history of the Church Age. Beginning with chapter 4, the apostle John wrote of “the things which shall be hereafter”that is, after the history of the Church on earth. From Revelation 4 to the end of the book, the Church is never again seen on earth. Chapter 4 of Revelation begins with a door opened in heaven and a trumpet that says, “Come up here.” This corresponds to the Rapture of the Church. All the dead in Christ will be raised; all living saints will be caught up with them. And all will be changed.
This transformation will take place instantaneously. Paul said it would occur “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” I suppose this was the shortest measurement of time Paul could think of. The Greek word for “twinkling” was used for any rapid movement. You and I live in an age of tremendous speed. We can sit in our homes and view events that are taking place on the other side of the globe. Transmitted around the world or bounced off a satellite, we see them as they occur. But never in the history of the world will there be a more startling instantaneous happening than we read about in 1Corinthians 15 and 1Thessalonians 4. A great company of believers, the Church of Jesus Christ, will suddenly be transformed they will be missing!
The Trumpet Will Sound
This will take place “at the last trump” (1 Corinthians 15:52). To be the “last” necessitates that there must be a “first.” Many have pictured Gabriel as the trumpet blower. Perhaps so. Regardless of the trumpeter’s identity, I am certain that this will be the “trump of God” (see 1 Thessalonians 4:16).
This is not connected with the seven trumpet judgments of the book of Revelation. The Church will be missing from the earth during that time of Tribulation. But just as two trumpets were sounded in Israel, so it may be that the first trumpet will awaken the sleeping saints, and the last trumpet will signal the closing of the Church Age. The first will call forth those who have died in Christ: the other will call the living saints for that glorious change.
When the Lord Jesus comes for His Church at the time of the Rapture, the bodies of believers will “put on immortality.” This body of humiliation and limitation wastes away. It dies and goes into the grave. But 1 Corinthians 15 has the body in view, not the soul. When the believer is resurrected at the coming of Christ, he will be given an immortal body. What a tremendous expectation!
We are hampered by our mortality today. Disease inevitably strikes. The process of decay is the inheritance of mankind. But at the Rapture of the Church, this “lowly body,” as Paul called it, will be replaced by a glorious, incorruptible, immortal body. The hymnwriter, Ada Habershon, said:
Weakness will change to magnificent strength, Failure will change to perfection at length, Sorrow will change to unending delight, Walking by faith change to walking by sight.
The Christian today has the blessed reality of victory, and he can be delivered from the power of sin. Even in death we “fear no evil.” But when the Church is caught away, is missing from this earth, the seal of victory will be ours in Christ: “then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:54,55).
This means that the child of God will experience one eternal morning. The prophet Isaiah cried, “Watchman, what of the night?” (Isaiah 21:11). The watchman replied, “The morning comes, and also the night” (v. 12). The Church of Jesus Christ, composed of all true believers, has a title to glory. We are children of the light.
Not so with the unbeliever. His title is to darkness and eternal death. If you have never received Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, you face not only the first death, but the second death which is eternal. The first death, separation of soul from body, means one is out of sight of man. But the second death, separation from God, means one is out of sight of God. Revelation 21:8 lists those who experience the second death, “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Did you notice, friend, the ones who head the list? If we wrote a catalog of those we thought should experience eternal separation from God, we would probably begin it with the murderers. But the One who sits upon the throne started the list with the fearful and unbelieving. Fearfulit means timid, to be afraid of someone. You may fear today what companions, fellow workers, or family would think of you if you began to live for Jesus Christ. You may fear that you could not hold out. And the unbelievingwhat a host of people that takes in! All other sins flow out of this. “He that believes on the Son has everlasting life: and he that believes not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).
If Christ would come today to catch away His Church, would you be prepared to meet Him? I know of no prophecy that needs to be fulfilled before Christ can come for His own. The Rapture is the next event on God’s prophetic calendar. My friend, you can be in that company of people who will rise to meet the Savior. Receive Christ today. Believe His Word; accept His grace. Then together with His saints we will see His face and be forever with our Lord.
One Final Question
One final question remains. Have you stepped out of darkness into light by receiving Christ as your Savior? If you do not know Christ, or are unsure of Him, you can become a Christian today. If you, by an act of faith, will accept His finished work on Calvary’s cross as the sole basis for your salvation, recognizing yourself to be a sinner and unable to save yourself, you will receive, this moment, the gift of imputed righteousness. This gift makes it possible for God to bring to your heart His indwelling Holy Spirit by which you are born again and receive eternal life. The Gospel is the wonderful message that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3,4). No other basis will serve as the grounds for eternal life, all other ground is sinking sand. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ today and you will receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life.
From the writings of Dave Breese
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