The Rapture and The Spirit of Adoption – (Part 1) – by Gary Stearman – www.prophecyinthenews.com
It will not come as a surprise to anyone that we Christians think of ourselves as members of the family of God. We call God “Father,” and consider that we have been adopted by virtue of the finished work of Christ, His first human Son. We enter God’s family by faith. This simple fact is commonly and rightly considered as a perfected and completed undertaking. In terms of our position, we have been redeemed and are being kept in His care on a moment-by-moment basis.
When Jesus uttered those immortal words, “It is finished!” from the cross, He spoke of an infinite and eternal accomplishment. These words are a translation of the Greek tetelestai, from teleo, meaning, “to carry out one’s own will or that of others.” It also means, “to bring to an end,” or “to fulfill obligations,” in the legal sense. It has often — and correctly — been said that what Jesus really declared was, “Paid in full.”
In that utterance, Jesus announced that He had accomplished everything that He had set out to do. But in the same moment this statement blazed across time and space, He initiated a long process that continues until today. It has taken a very long time for the church to realize the span and scope of His work. Most of us believe that it is very near to its culmination … the resurrection of the just, and the judgment of the nations.
It is this process, described in a myriad of theological works, that is depicted in the New Testament as a series of mysteries, which have been revealed to the body of Christ as part of the progress of spiritual maturity. One of the greatest of these mysteries is the nature of the redeemed family. Admittance into it has been described in various ways, depending upon one’s belief system.
And in the gossamer realms of theological contemplation, the qualifications for being a family member in good standing have presented constant discussion (or heated argument). Depending upon individual interpretation, the qualifications for being a family member range from pure grace to pure works.
Moreover, for the last two millennia, the family’s mission, purpose and culmination have also been the subject of constant dispute. Will the church lead the world to a state of peace? Has the church taken Israel’s place? Will the church bring in the Kingdom? Will the church be caught up, and if so, when? Some say it will not, others say that it will, but only after the Tribulation, or in the midst of it. Salvation, past, present and future, has been subjected to the tortures of men whose motives were less than perfect.
By now, anyone who studies has heard all the opinions and aired his own.
But the implications of one simple fact are generally overlooked. We, the general church — the body of Christ — are a family. What happens to us is “family business.” Understanding our position within the family is of exceeding importance! Properly appreciated, the development of maturity and its culmination is presented with extreme clarity. Scripture makes it plain.
And here it is: We are in the process of completing the details of our adoption. The papers have been prepared and the legalities have been met. But it will not be complete until the moment of the rapture.
Adoption: Suffering and Glory
In his letter to the Romans, Paul spends a great deal of time and much thought in outlining our situation. He explains that we have been justified by faith, and live in the hope of glory. As is also well known, we live in a state of self-contradiction, alive in the Spirit, but dead in the flesh. In spite of this, the Spirit can deliver us from the power of the flesh, and does so on a continuing basis, pending our resurrection and glorification.
This glorification is described by Paul in his epistle to Titus as the “blessed hope”:
“Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;
“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12,13).
Many times, and in many different ways, Paul’s letters link the resurrection hope with the rapture. His promised appearance and the resurrection of the righteous are a single event. Significantly, however, he also presents this same occurrence in an entirely different context. It is fleshed out in terms of an adoption:
“Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.
“For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
“For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
“And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Rom. 8:12-17).
The eighth chapter of Romans is devoted to the concept of sanctification. Through his words, the Spirit assures us that He will keep us secure until the final victory. But in this chapter, we discover that the essential element of sanctification is what Paul calls “the Spirit of adoption.” This phrase invokes a variety of thoughts, but if we take a deeper look at its implications, we discover that it provides an entirely new way of looking at Christ’s finished work.
In Paul’s first-century culture, this phrase carried great meaning and import. As a Roman citizen and resident of the Gentile city of Tarsus, he was well aware of Roman Law. It was the pride of the Empire, giving assurance of social stability and justice.
Under its auspices, and the legal concept expressed in Latin as patria potestes (the father’s power), an adoptee was considered as much a son as one naturally born into a family. In some cases, the adopted son was awarded higher familial placement than that of a man’s other natural children.
Writing to the Christians of Rome and Asia Minor, Paul was addressing citizens of the Roman Empire, who spoke Latin and well understood the concept and legal ramifications of adoption. From that day to this, under our Anglo-Saxon concept of case law, the details of the adoptive procedure provide a marvelous illustration of our relationship with God.
This is not merely a cold matter of legalities and protocols. From the personal perspective, adoption accurately pictures the heart’s longing for the completion of the process that has already begun, and will certainly be brought to completion.
It is the heart’s cry. As Paul put it, “… we cry Abba, Father!”
Recently a member of my congregation heard me speak on Paul’s many revelations concerning our spiritual adoption. She later wrote the following note, showing the life, love and hope that is central to adoption:
“I’ve given a lot of thought to today’s message — as I often do! It made me think of an internship I had one summer in an attorney’s office. I remember working on the adoption of a set of twins — lots of paper work, typing their names over and over (before computers) along with the details of their new names, new legal standing, guarantee of future benefits, etc. We worked in conjunction with an agency, and I will never forget the day, after months, they were scheduled to bring the twins to our office to be given to the parents. As we all waited in anticipation of seeing the little babies for the very first time, my boss said with tears in his eyes, ‘This is why I practice law.’ I’ll never look at the rapture the same way again!”
In this letter, with delight and surprise, she expressed a simple but powerful thought. The adoption is the rapture!
In this emotional recollection, she caught the true spirit of the catching-away of the church, reminding us that “rapture” is not only the Latin root word for being caught up. Its dictionary definition also encompasses a feeling of intense pleasure, enthusiasm or joy. We speak of being enraptured by music, or by well-shaped words of oratory. Imagine the sensations that will flood through us at the moment we are taken up, to be with the Lord, forever! We will be accepted as sons … of the Lord and Creator of the universe!
It is this emotional intensity that creates an ongoing dramatic tension in the subject of the rapture. We await that which we intensely desire. It may come today, or it may not. Even more remarkable is the fact that this intensity transcends mere individual perception. As we shall see, this passion is not merely personal. It is universal.
The Great Exchange
But in what way, you may ask, does adoption depict the rapture? We humans are creatures of feeling. Our emotions very often govern the way we make decisions and form relationships. And anyone who has had a deep conversation with another believer on the subject of the common faith knows that it includes a profound intertwining of analysis and emotion. Frustration and exhilaration are counterbalanced in various mixtures of resolve and anxiety. Paul described his own feelings as profoundly distressing:
“For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
“But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
“O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:22-24).
Here, we find the language of struggle. Paul never promises that Christianity will be free from such internal conflict. In fact, the long history of the saints reveals a solemn procession of afflictions, both internal and external. In a sense, it is suffering that sets the agenda for the restoration of a universe wracked by sin. And the suffering of each individual is only a tiny part of the whole process to which Paul refers, using a powerful term that is freighted with deep meaning.
This word is “reconciliation.” It is a translation of the Greek word apokatalasso, meaning, “to exchange one condition or thing for another.” In this, its strongest form, it is used in the epistle to the Colossians, to indicate a change in the very nature of things, so that unity and peace become possible:
“And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.
“And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled
“In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight” (Col. 1:20-22).
Paul writes of this reconciliation as the mechanism that has set the conditions for our adoption. In the new birth, our very nature has been changed. Christ’s own resurrection has set the terms of our ultimate resurrection, which as we noted above, awaits completion. This is the “Spirit of adoption,” Paul’s explanation of the patient waiting that characterizes the lives of the saints.
The Groaning Creation
And here we find the answer to our question about the rapture. We are adoptees who eagerly await the moment when we shall meet our Father in person. But the patient and suspenseful waiting for the final adoption is much larger in perspective than merely the individual desire for resurrection in glory. It includes the entire cosmos and the creatures who inhabit it. The Christian experience is universal.
In the eighth chapter of Romans, Paul includes this phenomenon as an integral part of the Christian experience:
“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
“For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.
“For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,
“Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
“For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
“And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
“For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?
“But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it” (Rom. 8:18-25).
Plainly, this is another of Paul’s references to the hope that is often quoted from Titus 2:13:
“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.”
Paul’s repeated message to the church is this: Yes, there is suffering, but it is not pointless. Nor does this hardship happen in a vacuum. It is part of a larger picture, an enormous celestial plan. In a sense, the suffering is actually an integral part of the resulting glory. That glory will span the entire visible universe … and beyond.
Four times in the above quotation, the Greek word ktisis appears. Three times, it is translated “creature.” The fourth, it appears as “creation.” In the original language, it describes the product of the creative act. It also refers to the universe. Ancient Greeks used the word to describe both the visible universe that can be perceived by the senses, and the invisible universe that lies beyond our perception.
As a verb, the word refers to the act of creation. Preceded by the definite article, it refers to the Creator.