Have you connected Paul's words to the Thessalonians with John's teaching in Revelation concerning the First Resurrection of the dead?
Have you connected Paul's words to the Thessalonians with John's teaching in Revelation concerning the First Resurrection of the dead? I did see your reference to "...the dead in Christ shall rise first (a resurrection of the dead) and then we who are alive at his coming will be caught up (rapture) to meet them in the air..." but I did not see that you have made a connection to the First Resurrection. I could be wrong.
It is very important to connect Paul's words to the Thessalonians with John's teaching/timing of events in Revelation 19 and 20 where he tells us that there will only be two resurrections and he tells us exactly when each of them will take place. This is the key. In light of this, I'm not sure I follow your multi-rapture hypothesis (mid-trib, pre-wrath, and post-trib). You would have to place the First Resurrection of the dead somewhere within the final seven years, because Paul says the rapture cannot happen until the dead in Christ rise first (resurrection). John's timing of the First Resurrection does not allow for such a placement of the First Resurrection before Jesus' second advent (bodily descent) to earth.
One of the professors at the university where I earned my degree in theology advised that we should use Paul's words to the Thessalonians as a guide or road map, and John's words about the resurrection as the clock. He said to always remember what Paul taught the Thessalonians about the rapture. Paul told the Thessalonians that the rapture cannot and will not happen before three things take place first:
The majority of people who email me will provide specific scripture references when pointing out certain matters. That way, there is much less likelihood of confusion when I provide a response. I will assume that you are referring, in particular, to 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 and Revelation 20:4-6.
Unquestionably, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 depicts a resurrection of dead believers, who then will be joined by living believers in being caught up and away (that is, raptured) to meet the Lord in the air:
According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17)This union of Jesus and His believers in the air will be at some point before Jesus returns to earth at His second advent—thus, the meeting in the air, not on the ground. Now, let's look at Revelation 20:4, in three Bible versions, and I am going to subdivide the verse into "part a" and "part b":
(a) And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: (b) and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4, King James Version = KJV)
(a) I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. (b) And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4, New International Version = NIV)
(a) Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. (b) And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4, New American Standard Version = NASV)
As is common with much of the KJV, the entire verse is one lengthy sentence. At first glance, it is not easy for the reader to separate the two distinct groups of people in "part a" and in "part b." However, the NIV and NASV more clearly delineate these two groups of believers, as do some other Bible versions.
Firstly, in Revelation 20:4a, John saw those who had been given authority to judge (1 Corinthians 6:2,3), and they were seated on thrones. Thus, they already were occupying their glorified bodies and already had been given authority to judge, along with Christ. The vast majority of these people will be those described in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, which depicts the main resurrection and Pre-wrath Rapture event, to take place at some point prior to Jesus' second advent back to earth.
Secondly, in Revelation 20:4b, John saw the souls (not the bodies), specifically, of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus—presumably, during the great tribulation period, since they also will not have worshiped the beast, nor will they have taken his mark. Most of the believers throughout the ages have not had the choice of whether or not to worship the beast and take his mark; only believers near the end of the age will have this choice. And, certainly, the vast majority of believers throughout the ages, who have died and who will be resurrected unto eternal life, have not been beheaded.
The souls in Revelation 20:4b (who probably are many of the same ones shown back in Revelation 6:9-11) will have been separated from their mortal bodies by being beheaded; thus, their resurrection in 20:4b will be into their glorified bodies. This will take place after Jesus' second advent to earth; and they will be meeting Jesus on the ground, not in the air, when they are resurrected. Jesus may choose to resurrect these martyrs, following His return to earth, to showcase them to everyone else as a very special group of believers, who were willing to lose their heads and lives rather than to renounce their faith and testimony for Him.
Collectively, all true believers resurrected and/or raptured before and after Jesus' second advent will be part of the first resurrection (Revelation 20:5b,6a). There will be multiple resurrection events; and, altogether, they will be considered to be the "first resurrection," meaning a resurrection unto eternal life that will not end in another death—unlike the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11:43,44 and of Eutychus in Acts 20:9,10, since eventually these men died again.
As a side but related issue, if we consider the deaths of men like Lazarus and Eutychus, they were part of the "first death." Even when they died for the second time, this still was part of the "first death," which includes all the deaths throughout the ages that will end whenever their "first resurrection" unto eternal life occurs. On the other hand, all of those who will not be resurrected unto eternal life will be part of the brief "second resurrection," at the great white throne judgment following the Millennium (Revelation 20:11-14); and then they will experience the "second death," which will involve being tossed into the lake of fire (20:6b,14,15).
Another resurrection that is part of the "first resurrection," but which will occur prior to the resurrection of Revelation 20:4b, is the resurrection of the two witnesses (11:11). This will happen before Jesus' second advent back to earth, which will be in conjunction with the blowing of the Seventh Trumpet (11:15-17).
Yet another resurrection to take place prior to Jesus' second advent will include the redemption into heaven of the 144,000 (Revelation 14:1-4). They will be translated into heaven even before the stern warning of the third angel's proclamation not to worship the beast or to receive his mark (14:9). It is in holding fast to this warning that those described in 20:4b will be beheaded and, after Jesus' return to earth, resurrected.
Thus, there will be more than one resurrection as part of the "first resurrection." All who are part of this collective resurrection of believers will reign with Christ for 1,000 years (Revelation 20:6).
I believe that the primary, "Pre-Wrath" resurrection and Rapture will take place soon after the opening of the Sixth Seal. At that time, everyone on earth will see "the face of Him who sits on the throne" (Revelation 6:16), which I see as a depiction of Jesus in the clouds of the sky (the same clouds seen in Matthew 24:30 and in 1 Thessalonians 4:17). At that time, He will catch up a host of believers into the clouds of the air; and it is this great multitude of believers (from every nation, tribe, people, and tongue) seen soon thereafter, by John, in heaven praising God (7:9,10). This is before the Seventh Seal is even opened (8:1), and this multitude will be saved from the wrath of God (1 Thessalonians 5:9,10) about to be unleashed upon the earth at that time, via the Trumpet Judgments.
The "Pre-Wrath" Rapture of Matthew 24:30,31 will take place immediately after the distinct changes in the sun, moon, and stars of 24:29 occur, which are equivalent to the cosmic disturbances seen to take place after the Sixth Seal is opened (Revelation 6:12,13). This will be before the opening of the Seventh Seal (8:1), which will be some time (I suspect about a year) before the sounding of the Seventh Trumpet; and the latter is when Jesus will return to rule and reign (11:15-17). Then, after He returns to earth, those souls who have been beheaded for their faith and testimony for Jesus will be resurrected (20:4b) as the completion of the first resurrection.
I also feel that there probably will be yet another important resurrection and Rapture: a "Post-Tribulation" event on the day of Jesus' second advent to earth (Revelation 14:14-16). On the same day of this final harvest and catching up of "last-minute stragglers," who will be saved after the Pre-Wrath rapture, Jesus will return to earth to "tread the winepress" of evil "grapes" (14:19-20). So those caught up to be with Jesus in Matthew 24:30,31 are not the same as those caught up in Revelation 14:16. The former group will be gathered by angels, while the latter group will be harvested by Jesus Himself.
As for a "Mid-tribulation" Rapture, I am not adamant that such an event will take place. If it does, I would see it as including a relatively small group of "firstfruits" believers. As I look at Matthew 25:1-13, I merely see this as a possibility, especially since the Bridegroom (Jesus) will arrive at "midnight" (25:6), which possibly could denote "mid-tribulation." More about this is described in an email response that I wrote to someone about that topic: Is it possible that Jesus' parable about the ten virgins could indicate that there will be a Mid-tribulation Rapture?
Incidentally, I disagree with your theology professor about the idea that the two witnesses will come at the beginning of the seven years. I believe that the two witnesses will be on the earth during the second half of the final seven years (70th Week). For one thing, soon after they are resurrected (Revelation 11:12), the Seventh Trumpet will sound, which will be in conjunction with Jesus' second advent to earth to rule and reign (11:15-17). The latter event will be at the end of the seven years. More details can be found in another email response I have written here: Are the 1,260 days mentioned in Revelation a reference to the first half or to the second half of the 70th Week?
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