1 ¶ The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. 2 Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. 3 Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. 4 So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. 5 And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. 6 Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, 7 And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. 8 Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. 9 For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.
Sunday, of course, is the first day of the week. As the Jewish day begins with the evening, Sunday would start on Saturday at nightfall or around 6pm, then Sunday began on Saturday night. Before daylight Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw the stone that was placed in front of it was moved away. You can read more about the stone being placed and the watch over the tomb in Matthew and Mark.
Mary told Peter and John, the writer of this gospel, and they both ran to the tomb. John was younger and faster so he arrived first and saw the linen clothing Jesus had been wrapped in laying there but he was looking in and did not go in the tomb. Peter also witnessed this and the covering for His face lying separately after going inside the tomb. John followed after. That these details are important to John but not the placing of the stone in front of the tomb is very interesting.
But, once again we are faced with the fact that the Jews were not looking forward to the Cross and the empty tomb like we are told so often. Even though Christ’s body is gone His disciples still do not understand that He was to rise from the grave. The next passage reveals that to underscore this point.
This brings to mind an interesting point. A doctrine exists even if the majority of people do not understand or believe it. If it is true, it simply is, regardless of opinion. As an example, the early church was premillennial, in that they believed in chiliasm (kill e as um), believing that Christ would return to rule physically on earth for a thousand years. Historical writers like Will Durant, in his epic eleven volume The Story of Civilization noted this.
“The apostles were apparently unanimous in believing that Christ would soon return to establish the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.” (35)
With this belief came the understanding that the church itself, the people, would be removed or translated from the world before Christ’s return, based on several verses in the Bible beginning with Enoch being physically removed without dying. See Genesis 5:24; Proverbs 25:7; Luke 17:34-36; Hebrews 11:5; 1Thessalonians 1:10; 1Thessalonians 4:14-17; Revelation 4:1; 11:12, 18.
Writings of early church leaders that have come down to us expressing belief in the premillennial return of the Lord include Papias, Shepard, Irenaeus, Lactantius, Victorinus, Cyprian, Ephraim the Syrite, Commodianus, Origen, Tertullian, and Justin Martyr while some of them also include implications and clear statements that the church will not see the wrath to come but will be removed beforehand. This does not prove, of course, that the doctrine is true but just that it is not a new doctrine, either the premillennial view or the translation of the church, but that these early church leaders, the viewpoint of the Apostles who knew Christ, and the Scriptures point in this direction.
The dominant viewpoint of the Roman Catholic Church after Augustine was that there was no millennium, in that references to a thousand year reign were allegorical and that the Roman church was ruling the world in Christ’s place as his proxy. The Reformation called that into doubt. The dominant viewpoint in early America up to the turn of the 20th century among evangelical Protestants was called postmillennial, in that the church would rule the world with Christ reigning spiritually through it, as men became more righteous and more Christian in appearance and practice.
As I pointed out before the American Theological Review, in 1859, said that postmillennialism, whereby a millennium would be set up and the religion of Christ would be everywhere and, “his spiritual reign would be universal,” and that would be followed by Christ’s physical return was the, “commonly received doctrine.” While admitting that this was not what the early church believed, as the early church said and we believe, He will return first to rule and then the millennium, the thousand year reign, will come, the author goes on to say that the early church was simply wrong.(36)
Christians today who do not believe in the translation of the church, popularly called The Rapture, will say that preacher of the early 1800’s, John Nelson Darby, invented the doctrine. He did popularize it in a world that regarded evolutionary progress as truth and that mankind and Christians in particular were headed toward a Golden Age of righteousness and peace.(37)
But, he obviously did not invent the doctrine, merely gave it his own twist. As John Reeve wrote two centuries before Darby’s, in the 1600’s, “Then shall the Elect, by the Decree or Voice of Jesus Christ, the Archangel, first appear out of the Graves, and, in the twinkling of an Eye, with all the Elect that are then living, as one Man, with a glorious Shout, shall, with distinct immortal Bodies, like unto their God, ascend to meet the Lord in the Air, and with him and his mighty angels, as swift as Thought, enter into that vast new Heaven and new Earth above the Stars….(38)
My intent here is not to approve of any preacher’s particular doctrines or idiosyncracies or even personal opinions or heresies but simply to show that the doctrine was not invented by Darby, as some would say. Only the timing of when it would happen, before the Great Tribulation mentioned in Matthew and Revelation, during, or at the end of it were in contention among those that believed in it.
Other references to the idea of the church being physically removed are from such diverse preachers and commentators as Jesuit priest, Francisco Ribera, in 1590, Puritan Cotton Mather in the 1600’s, and John Gill in the 1700’s.(39) In the first decade of the 1700’s Matthew Henry even uses the phrase, “rapture in the clouds,” in his commentary on 1Thessalonians 4:17 which is so commonly free on the internet I don’t need to give you directions here.
Again, the issue is when that happens and how close it is to the general judgment of the dead. Darby’s view was that it must take place before the return of Christ. The Bible seems to indicate that then there is the thousand year reign of Christ and the general judgment follows.
My point in bringing all of this up is to only say that a doctrine can exist in the Bible and either be misunderstood, not be known by most believers, or that those against it may misrepresent it to justify their own beliefs. The Jews believed that Israel would be restored to its past greatness, not seeing the Cross or the Resurrection of their Messiah. Many Christians believed they would turn the world over to Christian principles and values without Christ present. We must always remember that our understanding is incomplete until we stand before our Saviour.
Don’t put the Jews of Christ’s time down because they did not see this coming. We, ourselves, may be surprised that many of our pet doctrines, including The Rapture, may be wrong or not quite how we envisioned or our preachers taught us. All that matters is the truth and we have our hands full trying to obey the clear instructions of the Bible without arguing incessantly about who the antichrist is or when The Rapture is to take place when we should be focused on the proof or fruit of the Spirit in our lives as Paul wrote in Galatians, chapter 5. Rather than excitedly seeking out the next prophecy conference why don’t you spend some time on your face praying to be filled with the Spirit?
(35) Will Durant, “The Apostles: A.D. 30-95,” The Story of Civilization:Volume 3, Caesar and Christ (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1944), 575.
(36) Henry Boynton Smith, ”History of Opinions Respecting the Millennium,” The American Theological Review (Boston: Charles Scribner & Son, 1859), 642.
(37) J.N. Darby, “The Rapture of the Saints,” in The Heavenly Hope, or, What is the Hope of the Christian? What is the Hope of the Church? (Dublin: Dublin Tract Repository, 1844).
(38) John Reeve, “An Epistle to a Kinsman,” in Joyful News from Heaven (London: Francis Cosinet, 1658), 60.
(39) Mal Couch, ed., Dictionary of Premillennial Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1996.