The Rapture as a New Teaching
Most people are unaware that the modern pretribulation rapture theory is only about 200 years old. Its earliest version was set forth in 1812 by a Spanish Jesuit named Manuel de Lacunza y Diaz in a two-volume, 900-page work, The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty. The book was originally published in Spanish and was later translated into English by Rev. Edward Irving and published in 1827.
The basic premise of Lacunza's book is "futurism," as contrasted to "historicism." Up to that time, nearly all of the Protestant reformers and Bible scholars interpreted the book of Revelation from a historicist viewpoint, showing that Revelation set forth the history of the Church from John's day to the present. While each one had his own particular flavor of historicism, virtually none of them thought that the "rapture" would occur at the beginning of Revelation or that the bulk of Revelation spoke of a future time of "tribulation."
In fact, they saw that the Roman persecution of dissidents (later called Protestants) throughout the Church Age was the persecution of the saints portrayed in the book of Revelation. It was commonly believed that the Papal system itself was "Antichrist," the "little horn" coming out of the great iron (Roman) beast in Daniel 7:20.
The Roman Church was, of course, stung by this criticism. They could not deny their policy of burning dissidents at the stake, for this was openly discussed even by Roman bishops, cardinals, and the popes themselves. Their self-justification rang hollow when they insisted that dissidents deserved such torture.
Neither could they deny the fact that the Roman Church was an extension of the Roman Empire, for the Church assumed power when the old Roman government fell in 476 A.D. The Protestant reformers were quick to point out the Papal boast of having the power to overrule the precepts of the apostles and of Jesus Christ Himself. (See the quotation from my book, The Seven Churches, chapter 5, under the subheading, "Some 'Infallible' Papal Decrees." It is on pages 51 and 52 of the book.)
These papal decrees were a perfect match with what Daniel wrote about the "little horn" in Dan. 7:20, "that horn [governmental power] which had eyes and a mouth uttering great boasts."
It appears, then, that Lacunza, the Jesuit, set out to deflect this criticism of his Church organization. He assumed from the beginning that the biblical “Church” was the organization called Roman Catholic, and that it was therefore not possible for the Church to be part of the Beast system described by Daniel. This is one reason why it is vital that we understand the biblical definition of "the Church." It is not the organization nor the buildings. It is the people, the "congregation."
The Hebrew word for "Church" is kahal, which is usually translated congregation (of Israel). For example, Psalm 22:22 says,
22 I will declare Thy name unto my brethren; in the midst of the congregation [kahal] will I praise Thee.
This verse is quoted in Hebrews 2:12, where kahal is rendered by the Greek word ecclesia. This is the usual New Testament word translated "Church" in the King James Version. The NASB of Heb. 2:12 reads,
12 saying, I will proclaim Thy name to My brethren, in the midst of the congregation [ecclesia] I will sing Thy praise.
Thus, the word "Church" speaks of the congregation, not the organization or the building. The people do not go to Church; it is the Church that goes to the building to worship together without having to worry about getting wet from the rain.
Being a Christian is not a matter of having a relationship with an organization or any man. It is a matter of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through the New Covenant. This is why I do not send out membership cards for God's Kingdom Ministries. This ministry is not the Church. It is merely a way of pointing you to Christ and showing you how you may become a member of Christ's Church, having your name written in the Lamb's Book of Life.
To the extent that I may help facilitate that relationship determines the success of this ministry. Any organization that claims to be "The True Church" is just another cult, whether it has ten members or a hundred million. Any organization that requires men to "join" them and have a good-standing relationship with the men who lead the organization is only "the church" if they are willing and able to die for your sins. They may be willing, but they are not able to pay for your sin.
Lacunza's incorrect definition of the Church was perhaps the most basic flaw of all his assumptions. It was what motivated him to invent the pre-tribulation rapture theory in the first place, to take the pressure off the Roman Church and put the Antichrist into the future.
Edward Irving, then, took those ideas and injected them into Protestantism in 1827. Today, most Christians assume that the futuristic view of Revelation has always been taught in the history of the Church. Yet the leaders of most of today's denominations did not teach futurism, nor did they teach a pre-tribulation rapture. If the founders of each denomination were to walk into their own denomination today, most of them would be immediately excommunicated and pronounced heretics.
I knew a preacher who was called before the heresy tribunal and asked what he believed about the rapture. He said, "I believe exactly what our founder believed." The tribunal had to adjourn to look up what the founder believed. When they returned, they excommunicated him! A year later, I met my wife in one of the churches that he had established, but since he was now kicked out of the denomination, I did not have the privilege of meeting him for another 26 years.
If we search out the roots of the problem, the origin of this lack of biblical understanding, it really comes down to an ignorance of Sukkoth, the Feast of Tabernacles. Quite early in the history of the Church, the law was discarded as being "Jewish," and so Christians rejected the revelation of the second coming of Christ.
The Feast of Passover prophesied of Christ's death on the Cross, which was the primary purpose of His first appearance. The New Testament explains it in great detail, showing how He was crucified while the people were preparing the lambs for Passover. He died in the middle of the afternoon, "between the two evenings," precisely as the law prophesied in Ex. 12:6 (literal translation).
Then He was raised from the dead and presented to the Father as the first fruits of the barley at the time of the Wave Sheaf Offering on "the day after the sabbath" (Lev. 23:11). The time of His presentation was at the third hour of the day while the priest was waving the sheaf of barley before the Father. That lawful act prophesied of His presentation.
Then seven weeks later, at Shavuot, "Pentecost," the Holy Spirit was given to the Church (people, not organization) in Acts 2. This fulfilled the prophetic law of Pentecost.
Thus ended the feast days prophesying of Christ's first coming. The next set of feasts prophesied of His second coming, and this culminates with the Feast of Tabernacles. If we define harpazo, "the catching away" (i.e., "rapture") in terms of this feast and its prophecy, we will stand on solid ground. If not, we will display our ignorance rather quickly.
Unfortunately, the modern rapture teachers developed their teachings with virtually no knowledge of the Feast of Tabernacles. Thus, they make it largely a New Testament teaching with no Old Testament foundations. Yet one cannot understand His second coming without a thorough knowledge of Tabernacles.
So this book is designed to help correct this problem.