The Rapture and Dispensationalism - According to Scripture? - by Keith Petersen


There exists today considerable confusion regarding the Rapture, and lateral confusion regarding the believing Christian’s place and status after death.  Integrated into many discussions regarding the above subjects are questions as to Dispensationalism.

These subjects are simply understood if oneself adheres to what Scripture teaches.  Much has been written on these subjects and much of it to great length; however, these subjects - which have certain links and commonality - can be clearly understood, and the following scriptures can help in this understanding.

When the Lord was on the Cross the thief on one side of Him became saved - “And he said to Jesus, Remember me, [Lord,] when thou comest in thy kingdom.  And Jesus said to him, Verily I say to thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”

This one scripture provides a series of answers in regard to the issues of the Rapture, the Christian’s place after death and Dispensationalism.

First, we see that, upon the death of the Christian he/she goes to be with the Lord in “the Paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7).  We have other scriptures that show that the believer’s actual body remains here at that time - for example, Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:8 “absent from the body and present with the Lord”.   Nothing could be simpler.

As to the state of the Christian after death - they are “asleep”.  Paul writes extensively to the Corinthians as to this Christian state and Acts 7 shows Stephen stoned “praying, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.  And kneeling down, he cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And having said this, he fell asleep.”  Some seem to think that there is some heightened awareness that belongs to the Christian in this state; however, “asleep” means “asleep” - they are most certainly not in some immobile yet awake/aware state.  We have to allow scripture to act upon our minds and hearts under the lead of the Holy Spirit.

Some think that the believing Christian is in their body in the ground after death - awaiting a movement from God to subsequently bring them to Heaven, and there is, apparently, then much subsequent confusion as to the first resurrection vs. the 2nd, etc.  However, as shown by the above scriptures, this notion could not be further from the truth.  If “absent from the body”, the believer is “present with the Lord.”

The lateral but subsequent issue of the believer’s body relative to their eternal state is seen in Paul’s writings in the latter section of 1 Thessalonians 4.  Here Paul is combating what was evidently erroneous concern as to resurrection of those already dead - “But we do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them that are fallen asleep, to the end that ye be not grieved even as also the rest who have no hope.”

Paul shows that, when the Lord comes for His Church all believing Christians - both those already fallen asleep (“the dead in Christ”) and those living - shall be together to meet Him in the clouds:  “ For if we believe that Jesus has died and has risen again, so also God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus.  (For this we say to you in [the] word of [the] Lord, that we, the living, who remain to the coming of the Lord, are in no way to anticipate those who have fallen asleep; for the Lord himself, with an assembling shout, with archangel's voice and with trump of God, shall descend from heaven; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we, the living who remain, shall be caught up together with them in [the] clouds, to meet the Lord in [the] air; and thus we shall be always with [the] Lord.”

The phrase translated “caught up” comes from the Latin “raptus” which means to “snatch away” or “catch up”.  This is translated in English as “rapture”, and it is this wonderful event that is presented in “the word of the Lord” as being the moment in which the Church is raptured to meet Christ.  We must notice that He is “in the air” - He is not spoken of as coming to earth.  This sets aside other scriptures that are misconstrued in an attempt to show that the Church goes to Heaven only at some subsequent time when the Lord actually returns to the earth and/or that there is no such particular event as the Rapture.

The thief’s death on the cross highlights several additional realties beyond - but, linked to - the fact that he would that day be present with the Lord in Paradise.  The first is that, if he was to be present that day with the Lord there could be no conceivable attempt to suggest that no believers go to be with the Lord until some point in conjunction with the trials and tribulations of the seals of the book of The Revelation.  There are notions that the Church only goes to be with the Lord after passing through the great Tribulation of Matthew 24 and Revelation 7; but, this is impossible as countless numbers of believing Christians having been going to be with the Lord in Paradise for centuries.  Are they to be returned to the earth to fulfill a purported prophecy as to the Church undergoing tribulation, and then to be taken back to Heaven?  The entire concept of the Church suffering through a great tribulation is unscriptural in the extreme.

It should be said that the reality of the Rapture does not set aside the fact that, as Christians, there are tribulations here in this “present evil world.”  Paul writes extensively as this reality; but, none of these difficulties and pressures are to be confused with “the Great Tribulation” - these are day-to-day pressures facing the Christian as they move against the current of a world as to which John defines its being as, “the whole world lies in the wicked one.”

Another reality as to the thief’s death on the cross is that he died in faith.  Paul wrote to Timothy that he would “enjoin some not to teach other doctrines, nor to turn their minds to fables and interminable genealogies, which bring questionings rather than [further] God's dispensation, which [is] in faith.  The word translated dispensation here is taken from the Greek meaning a “religious economy - a dispensation”.

We live today in 2017 as this article is being written in “God’s dispensation which is in faith.”  The construction of the language by the Holy Spirit in this chapter in 1 Timothy 1 shows, most obviously, that this is a particular dispensation (“which is in faith”) and that, of necessity, there are other dispensations.  The Israelite of the Old Testament, for example, was in a dispensation of sight and earthly blessings - God is distinctly shown in the OT as a God of the Heavens while the Israelites are shown in an earthly setting (although, ultimately, heavenly overtones are shown by the prophets and psalmists); whereas, this present Christian dispensation highlights that, although yet here on earth, we are a Heavenly people (“Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of [the] heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus” and there are many other references).

All the scriptures listed above are simple and direct.  Taking them up in simplicity under the hand of the Holy Spirit would obviate erroneous lines of natural reasoning such as evinced when Peter writes “which the untaught and ill-established wrest, as also the other scriptures”.

It is of great importance to understand that the Church involves God’s highest thoughts in relation to His creation - see Ephesians 3.  In that respect, the Church does not fit as such into the time prophecies of scripture - it fits into a parenthesis in time between the OT and the prophecies concerning Israel and the world as shown in prophets such as Daniel and The Revelation.