Now that we have celebrated the Resurrection at Easter (also the Feast of First Fruits on the Jewish calendar) let's get back to the topic at hand. That would be the Rapture. Considering everything going on in the world these days, together with the Revelation 12 warning sign last September, it surely looks like that the Rapture will occur sometime between the date of this post and Pentecost on May 20, 2018. Other blogs go into the details of why any particular date is a better candidate an another, so I won't repeat that here.
Let's do something different.
This is the first of what I hope will be a series of posts about life AFTER the Rapture for believers. Where do we go, what will it be like, what do we need to learn? I'm convinced that when we get to Heaven there will be two types of things we need to learn.
- Those things that we should have (or could have) learned on Earth but didn't.
- Those things that there's no way we could have learned on Earth because we didn't have the brain power, the information, the access to someone who could teach it, the right direction, the right motivation, etc. Whatever the reason, it was simply beyond the grasp of our mortal selves
So, when we get to Heaven we will need to do two types of learning, remedial and advanced studies. Think of it as something like new employee orientation at a job. After we meet the most important people we want to see in Heaven, plus our Creator of course, we'll probably spend some time getting oriented to the new place. Here's where you go, this is what you do, etc. Important note, there will be plenty of "doing" in Heaven. We are definitely NOT sitting on a cloud strumming a harp.
In order to shorten some of our remedial learning or at least make the adjustment easier, let's see what the Bible says about a few thing so we can get ahead.
Today's topic is: Where?
Just about anyone who knows what the Rapture is knows that when it occurs believers will be "caught up" to Heaven. But, is that all there is to know? Is there anything more we can unlock from the Bible about where we will go and what it will be like? When I first became interested in learning about Heaven, the reason described in my post Why HeavenlyPerspectives.org?, a friend introduced me to the writing of Randy Alcorn at Eternal Perspectives Ministries. While reading just about everything Randy Alcorn has ever written I learned the Bible tells us quite a lot about Heaven. So, in this time of waiting it seems appropriate to share some of what I have learned. I'm sure that not everything I am sharing will be correct, but hopefully much of it will be because I'm trying to make sure it is biblically based.
Here's the starting point for our discussion. At the Rapture, believers are "caught up" (harpazó) to Heaven; but which Heaven? If you are like me when I started learning about Heaven, you are probably thinking something like "I didn't know there was more than one...." We know there's more than one Heaven because Paul references being "caught up" to the third Heaven in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4.
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.
Several interesting ideas to discuss from these verses. First, what is the third heaven? In Jewish and Christian thought at the time of Christ, Heaven is divided into three parts. They are:
- 1st Heaven - what we consider to be Earth's atmosphere
- 2nd Heaven - what we consider to be Outer Space - planets, stars, galaxies, etc.
- 3rd Heaven - the place where God lives - also called Paradise
The Greek word for paradise is "paradeisos". Where else do we see the word paradiesos in the Bible? The most relevant to this discussion is when Jesus was talking with the second criminal on the cross in Luke 23:40-43.
40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Both Jesus and Paul use the same word, paradeisos to reference Heaven. Both were referring to a literal place that exists and and a place that can be entered right now.
Second, Paul uses the same Greek word for "caught up" (harpazó) in both 2 Corinthians 12:4 where he is talking about his own personal rapture and in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 where he is talking about the rapture of the church.
16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
For perspective, Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians around 50 - 52 AD (give or take a few years) and 2 Corinthians around 55 - 57 AD. Paul indicates his being "caught up" to Heaven occurred 14 years prior to writing 2 Corinthians. So, we'll estimate the date of his experience at 42 - 45 AD (again give or take a few years). That means Paul had already experienced being raptured when he makes these claims in 2 Corinthians 12:4 and 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Yes his experience was temporary, but he could fairly say "been there, done that!" Therefore, it makes sense to accept his claim about the Rapture of the Church in 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
Side note. You may have heard references at some point in your life to "7 heavens" or a "7th heaven." While there are reportedly some extra-biblical Jewish mystical writing that mention 7 heavens, there's no compelling evidence in the Bible for it. Therefore, it seems wise to disregard any secular references to 7 heavens since it is not explicitly biblical.
Let's get back to talking about paradise! We can infer something important about the third heaven or paradise from Revelation 21:1
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
What do you see? That's right, the "first heaven" passes away when the New Heaven and New Earth are created. We are raptured to what is considered the Intermediate Heaven as opposed to the Eternal Heaven. Randy Alcorn has an excerpt from his book "Heaven" that he placed on his website here. I recommend reading the excerpt and the book if you want more detail.
Now that we have some background out of the way, let's look at the anticipated order of events for those who believe in a Pre-Tribulation Rapture. Then we can consider where believers are during each of these events.
Order of events:
- Age of Grace Ends with the Rapture of the Church.
- Seven Years of Tribulation
- Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Millennial Kingdom Established for 1000 years
- New Heaven and New Earth After Millennial Kingdom
Let's talk about where the believers are during these events and a little bit about what they might doing. By "believers" I'm referring to the Church, those who accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior prior to the Rapture.
The first event will be the Rapture of the Church. During the Rapture believers living and dead are raptured to the third or intermediate Heaven. According to Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 the dead in Christ will rise first. Then as we have seen previously in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 those who are still alive will be "caught up".
Now, look back at what Jesus said to the second thief on the cross in Luke 23:43.
And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
If you have encountered the phrase "soul sleep" you may know that this is a doctrine promoted by some groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses that suggest the dead in Christ are asleep (not conscious) between the time of their death and the time they are resurrected. Clearly Jesus debunks this doctrine in Luke 23:43 with the word "today". If we take the Bible literally then we must infer that when he said today he really meant today. That means the dead in Christ in in Heaven already.
So how is the Rapture different than the normal process of the dead in Christ going to Heaven? An important element of the Rapture is what happens to the physical bodies of both the living and dead in Christ. Let's look at what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:51-53.
51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.
At the Rapture both our soul and our physical bodies with be joined up with Jesus in the clouds on our way to Heaven. During the process our mortal, physical body will be transformed into a glorified, immortal body. Consider this the "Left Behind" scenario. Believers disappear in the Rapture and the world is left in chaos.
It is critical to understand the doctrine that humans are both physical and spiritual and we cannot be fully human without one or the other. In Heaven we will be fully human, even more fully human that we are on Earth right now. (I'll write more on that in the future). Paul was emphatic about the resurrection of the body and the difference between our natural and spiritual bodies in 1 Corinthians 15:35-49.
35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.
42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”;[e] the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
The doctrine of resurrected bodies is so important that it is specifically mentioned in the Apostle's Creed. You can take it to the bank, in Heaven we will be reunited with a glorified and immortal version of our physical, earthly bodies
But what about those who have already died and gone to Heaven? Consider Isaiah 26:19.
19 Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.19 Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.
And as indicated by 1 Thessalonians 4:14, Jesus died and rose again and he will bring bodies of the dead in Christ in the same way.
14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
Jesus' resurrected body is the "first fruits" example of those who have have died. His dead body was resurrected and glorified. He has the same body He had before he died, including the wounds that are now scars. The same will happen for the dead in Christ. For them the Rapture is about being reuniting with their physical bodies. Regardless of how deteriorated their bodies are in the grave or even if they were cremated, those believers who die before the Rapture will be reunited with their physical bodies. If Jesus really is the Creator of the universe, I'm sure he has the ability to recreate the physical bodies of anyone; even if their remains have turned to dust and that dust is scattered to the ends of the Earth.
The Tribulation, or Time of Jacobs Trouble, begins with the signing of the seven year peace treaty by Israel. The Church Age or Age of Grace will have ended with the Rapture, removing the Church from the Earth. All believers living or dead at the time will have been raptured to Heaven. There will be no more additions to the Bride of Christ since the Church Age dispensation will have been completed. It is in the third or intermediate Heaven that we will live and wait until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
It is clear in the Bible that there are people who are non-believers at the beginning of the Tribulation who come to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. These believers are known as Tribulation Saints. They are not part of the Church because the Church no longer exists on Earth. Tribulation Saints have two options for reaching and participating in the Millennial Kingdom; the more likely option and the less likely option. The more likely option is they become Tribulation Martyrs. The Tribulation Martyrs are killed, specifically John tells us in Revelation 20:4 that they are beheaded, because they refuse to worship the beast, the image of the beast or have the mark of the beast applied to their body. We know the Tribulation Martyrs go to the third Heaven because John tells us they do in Revelation 7:13-14
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
The less likely option for the Tribulation Saints will be to survive until the Second Coming. Considering the Tribulation Saints will not be able to buy and sell because they have not taken the mark of the beast and the plagues and judgments that will reign down on the Earth, simply surviving will be a monumental task. We know from Revelation 4:7 that 144,000 Jews become Tribulation Saints and they are sealed from destruction.
4 And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:
After the Battle of Armageddon during the Second Coming, Jesus will gather together everyone who is still alive and divide them into the sheep and the goats; sheep on the right and goats on the left as described in Matthew 25:31-33.
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.
Then in Matthew 25:45-46 Jesus indicates that the goats will be sent to eternal punishment but the sheep will granted eternal life.
45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
It's unclear how many Tribulation Saints, other than the 144,000 sealed Jews, will be saved. God always seems to leave a remnant. The probability is that an unspecified number of non-Jewish Tribulation Saints will find a way to survive, even though it will be incredibly difficult to do so.
When Jesus returns at the Second Coming, he's bringing everyone with Him. His army to fight the Battle of Armageddon will consist of the saints in Heaven as described in Zechariah 14:5
5 And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.
and in Jude 14
14 It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones,
"Holy ones" are those who have been made holy by the blood of Jesus, i.e. the saints. Both the Church and the Tribulation Martyrs will return with Jesus as His army to fight the Battle of Armageddon. When the saints return they will be clothed in their glorified bodies that were given to them in Heaven.
Side note, I don't believe for a minute that Jesus needs his army of saints to defeat Satan. However, He will grant us the privilege to join Him in the destruction of the Anti-Christ, the False Prophet and their army.
The dividing of the sheep and the goats occurs after the battle is won. After dispensing of the goats, the Tribulation Saints (the sheep) and the army of saints (the Church and the Tribulation Martyrs) from Heaven are the collection of humans left on Earth. This is the populate from which the Millennial Kingdom begins.
I'm only going to make a few comments about the Millennial Kingdom. If you want to learn more about why there is a Millennial Kingdom, I strongly recommend you read Greg Lauer's post, It's Coming.
Here are the ones that I'm going to point out in this post.
First, the Millennial Kingdom occurs on the Earth. The Earth will likely need some repair after the Tribulation but it is here that we will live. Jesus will be the King. He will rule over the whole earth.
Second, the populate of the Millennial Kingdom will consist of two types of people:
1. Those with Earthly bodies - the Tribulation Saint who survived the Tribulation.
2. Those with glorified bodies - the army of saints who returned from the intermediate Heaven during the Second Coming.- believers previously in heaven live on earth with glorified bodies
Finally, we the Bride of Christ will reign with Jesus as indicated in 2 Timothy 2:11-13
11 The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;if we deny him, he also will deny us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.
The Greek root word for "reign with" is sumbasileuó. In English the definition for reign is "to hold royal office; rule as king or queen."
So, what do you think about reigning with Jesus in the Millennial Kingdom? Sound interesting?
New Heaven and New Earth
After the Millennial Kingdom when Satan has been permanently banished to the lake of fire and after the Great White Throne judgment when non-believers will be judged by their actions, God creates the New Heaven and New Earth in Revelation 21:1-5.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place[a] of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,[b] and God himself will be with them as their God.[c] 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Note that it is not until the New Heaven and New Earth that things like mourning, crying and pain have passed away. Apparently there will at least some of these things in the Millennial Kingdom.
All these things considered, I think you will agree with me that the most important thing to know about the New Heaven and New Earth are that we will live with God, He will make all things new and it will be amazing!
Finally, if you are still on the fence about whether or not you believe that Jesus is the Creator of the universe, that He died to forgive you of your sins, that he was resurrected on the 3rd day and that he offers the free gift of eternal life to all who believe in Him, you are running out of time to make your decision. The evidence is overwhelming. All you have to do is ask for forgiveness and commit your life to Him. Do it now before its too late!
I would like to say a special thanks to Jeff from Unsealed.org for his help with this post. I definitely needed it brother!
Look for more posts from me about Heaven in the near future. Thanks for reading.