FAITH: Escaping death by experiencing the rapture
“[Jesus] was taken up before their very eyes and a cloud hid him from their sight.”
After the resurrection, Jesus visibly ascended into heaven.
It is a cornerstone of the Christian faith that the physical remains of Jesus are nowhere on earth and that he went straight to heaven.
Indeed, some argue the empty tomb is a much more meaningful symbol of our faith than the instrument of Roman execution, the cross, because it emphasizes the power of God over death.
Given our society’s pre-occupation with youth and avoiding the ravages of old age, the idea that it is possible to escape physical death is an intriguing one.
The bodily ascension of Jesus into heaven has been a popular subject in religious art for centuries (check out Google images for a wide sampling).
The Bible tells of two other individuals who went straight to heaven without dying.
The first one mentioned is Enoch (Genesis 5). We don’t know much about Enoch, but the most important thing about him is that he “walked with God.”
In other words, he had a very intimate relationship with God.
The writer of Hebrews says: “By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death . . .”
I’m reminded of the story of a saintly old man, who, when asked what he knew about God, replied, “I don’t know very much, but I do know that He is very fond of me.”
God was especially fond of Enoch and, as a reward, “. . . God took him away.”
The “death” of the great prophet Elijah was much more dramatic.
Elijah was with his disciple, Elisha, when his time came.
“As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.” (2 Kings 2:11).
Elijah’s stature as a great man of God is emphasized in his re-appearance with Jesus at his transfiguration (Matthew 17).
In Catholic tradition, Mary, the mother of Jesus, was assumed into heaven, which is why there is no “tomb of Mary” with bones inside recognized by the Christian Church.
In the tradition of the Eastern Church, Mary did die, but was resurrected after three days (i.e. they do recognize a tomb of Mary, but it does not contain any remains).
The Roman Catholic catechism says, “when the course of her earthly life was finished, [Mary] was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory . . .”
The question of Mary’s actual physical death is not made clear, only that she was taken bodily into heaven.
You may have seen those bumper stickers that say, “In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned.”
This is a reference to the concept believers who are alive during the second coming of Christ will be bodily taken straight to heaven (rapture comes from the Latin word “raptus,” to take or seize).
“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 [raptured] together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17).
In 1985, a psychology professor at the University of Victoria once ridiculed me in front of the class because I said I was a Christian.
Later, in an exercise where we had to state how we thought we would die, I said I wasn’t going to die, but be raptured (yes, I was getting a little revenge).
I don’t know if that will be the way I’ll go.
The point I am making is heaven is a choice all of us can make — and it depends entirely on our walk with God, who has shown special favour to a handful of individuals by allowing them to escape death altogether.
He has also promised his faithful ones will not have to wait for death to be with him when he comes again—they will be raptured immediately into heaven.
And that is a blessing for which we can all hope.
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