Evidence from the Simple Words of Jesus
When Christ began to teach his disciples about the end of the age and his return, he did so in a series of parables or symbolic stories. Several of these from the Gospel of Matthew can be seen to directly relate to some of the main characteristics of the rapture. It is from Christ’s predictions that we can begin to see how clear the characteristics and timing of the rapture are revealed in the Bible.
The Tares and the Wheat
One of the most well-known of these parables is the story of the tares and wheat. Many people are familiar with this lesson, but they probably don’t realize that it establishes a very important point with regard to the gathering together of believers at the end.
As the story begins, Jesus describes how a man starts to plant some good seed in his field. After he was done planting, however, his enemy comes and introduces bad seed into the soil, too. Once all the seeds begin to grow, it becomes apparent to the people that there was something starting to contaminate the purity of the crop so they asked the owner if they should go out and uproot the weeds. But the owner replies,
“Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.
“Let both grow together until the harvest; and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”
Virtually all of the Lord’s parables either symbolically relate to some aspect of Christian living or teach his followers a prophetic lesson of the things to come. This parable actually has part of both types within it. Jesus went on to explain in the same chapter that the tares and the wheat represent not merely crops, but types of people who will make up his church. He told his disciples that despite his best efforts to establish a pure congregation of followers, there would eventually creep into it a number of nonbelievers. These evil “tares”, according to the Lord’s explanation, would turn out to be planted by Satan himself. He also says, though, that both the tares and the wheat should be allowed to remain present in the church until the end of the age when he will then send forth his “reapers” to separate the true believers from the evil imposters. It is at this point that the parable describes an aspect of the rapture that is very important for our understanding. This is how Jesus explained it:
“…the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are the angels.
“As, therefore, the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so shall it be in the end of this age.
“The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them who do iniquity,
“And shall cast them into a furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
“Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
The symbolism relating to the “harvest” of the earth is something that is used again and again in the prophecies concerning the rapture. Just as a farmer would separate the good crops from the chaff (weeds) at the time of harvest, so the Lord says he will separate the people of the world at the end. Actually, Christ himself is not the one who will do the separating and gathering, but his angels are prophesied to do the work for him.
Notice that the affect of this harvest on the lives of the people being gathered is much greater than the rather limited descriptions of the rapture given in the beginning of this section. Instead of just affecting believers, the Lord predicts that the event will also have immediate and tremendous ramifications for nonbelievers. He says that even the people who are evil (“them who do iniquity”) will be gathered as well, but instead of experiencing the blessings of God as his followers will enjoy, they will be bundled and burned in a furnace of fire. Obviously, the event that we have come to know as the rapture has two very different sides to it: one results in eternal life and the other results in the fires of hell.
In a similar manner, Jesus goes on to describe another parable in the same chapter of Matthew which also talks about the harvest at the end. He says in this case that the kingdom of heaven is like a huge net that fishermen use to catch fish. After the net is dragged through the sea and becomes full, it is brought to shore where the good fish are separated out and kept, and the bad fish are thrown away. Christ then continues on to say,
“…So shall it be at the end of the age; the angels shall come forth, and separate the wicked from among the righteous,
“And shall cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
It is clear from these two parables that whatever we have come to believe concerning the rapture, it must at least include the following initial characteristics:
1. It will occur at the end of the age.
2. The ones who will accomplish the gathering are angels directed by Christ.
3. The event will separate the wicked from the righteous where the wicked will be punished and the followers of Jesus blessed.