The Gospels and their Raptures

Rudi Steenhuis blog:

It is important to remember that this period of time covering “the gospel of God” and “the gospel of Christ” is a transition period. This has to be factored into the process of evaluating and interpreting the scriptures during this Acts period.

Although the gospel of Christ is the exact same message as “the gospel of the grace of God,” our gospel today, we must recognize that the circumstances surrounding this gospel were different and that some of the things we read of in the Acts epistles of Paul do not apply in this grace dispensation today. During the time of in the book of Acts, as far as the Jews were concerned, the Gentile believers were going to be a possession of Israel when the kingdom came (Amos 9:11-12). It was only after the Acts epistles, when the gospel of grace was sent "far hence" unto the Gentiles, who were outside the covenants of promise, that Jewish things, like observances, traditions, customs, and rituals, were nailed to the cross and taken out of the way.

Paul's prison epistles have no evidence of Jewish references and concepts.

With this said, let's have a look at some of the circumstances (or scenarios) that are different between the (Pauline) pre- and post-Acts epistles and that can cause confusion when comparing and evaluating things during this transition period.

Different audience

The audience who received the gospel of Christ were both Jews and Greeks who came out of the synagogues, having believed the gospel of God. After this, Paul presented them with the good news that the cross-work of Jesus Christ was the all-sufficient atonement for their sins and which would bring them into right standing with God without the means of Israel and its works, it's customs, practices, baptism and laws. 

As opposed to this, the audience of the grace gospel were those 'far hence' Gentiles (Acts 22:21) who had no association with Israel at all, as well as no hope of salvation without them, as mentioned in Ephesians 2,

Eph.2:11 Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; 12 That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.

So, although the gospel message was the same, the audience does change from Jews, and the Greeks, (those who associated with the Jews in their religion and practices), to Gentiles, who were outright pagans, who had no clue about the life and identity of the Messiah and who would have been utterly lost had it not been for this gospel of grace that saved them without the means of Israel.

Jew first and then Greek

Following closely on this first difference, the gospel message that Paul preached was always to the Jew first. Paul had not given up on the Jews yet. At this time in his ministry he still had hope and a burning desire to save his people. During the early part of this transition time, he still believed they could be converted as a nation. As his ministry progressed, he would recognize that the nation was lost, but that he could still save individual Jews through the gospel of Christ. Have a look at Romans 11:1-14, where Paul was still hoping that he could save some,

Rom.11:1 I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel saying, 3 Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. 4 But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. ... 14 If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.

 Now compare it to Philippians 3:1-8 where Paul says,

Phil.3:4 Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: 5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; 6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. 7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.

There is a fairly stark contrast in Paul's stance here. By the time he wrote Philippians, he had concluded that the Jewish program was in suspension and that his time and efforts to further this program were futile.

The Second Coming of Christ

We, as the body of Christ today, (assuming you hold to a rightly divided view of scripture), understand that our rapture is not the one that speaks of meeting the Lord in the clouds, 1 Thess.4:16-17. Our rapture will be swift and silent, the living members of the body of Christ being snatched away in a moment into heaven, without fanfare, without a trumpet sound and a resurrection of the dead and without a visible appearance of the Lord in the clouds. (See these verses: Col.3:4; Phil.3:20-21; 2 Tim.4:1; 2 Tim.4:8Titus 2:13)

However, during this period of transition, while the Jews were still first (Rom.1:16), and the Gentiles were still viewed as being subject to the program of Israel, even this topic on the return of Christ still focused on their program and referenced the Jewish resurrection and rapture into the clouds. It is only in the prison epistles, once the Jewish program was suspended, that Paul refers to the rapture of the body of Christ and the fact that it was a separate event without connection to Israel and their salvation.

Heirs according to the Promise

Gal.3:22 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. 24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. 26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

The Greeks (Gentiles) during this transition time were seen as heirs according to the promise. This means that the Gentile believers who came out of the synagogues were therefore in the promises made to Abraham. Although they were saved into the body of Christ, they were still connected to the blessings of Israel. They had forsaken their idolatrous ways and had turned to the living God of Israel, practicing a measure of ordinances in order to keep relations and peace with Jews in the mixed cultural church, Acts 15:28-31. If the kingdom had come at that time (Acts 1:6), they would have gone into the kingdom on the basis of the promise to Abraham without having heard the gospel of Christ. They were in position for Matt.25:31-40 to have been fulfilled in them.

On a final, but interesting note, Paul writes that the 'far hence' Gentiles were made to be fellowheirs, and of the same body [of Christ], and partakers of His promise in Christ by the means of the grace gospel, Eph.3:6. They were joined by grace instead of by Israel as by this time Israel had reached the end part of their probational period, that 40 years (30AD-70AD) of Israel under testing. Israel was placed in suspension and the gospel went out to the Gentiles excluding any connection to the Jewish Kingdom program.

Credit to Nolan Butler, a friend and brother in Christ, for his advice and guidance in portions of this post.