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[THE FIRST AND THE LAST - Part II
by Leland Earls]
[The Harvest Parables: Foundational Paradigm to Understanding the End Time “Rapture”]
We need to understand God's end-time pattern for the "harvest" if we are going to fit the pieces into the over all picture. Jesus emphatically declared in Mt. 13:39 that "the harvest is the end of the age (not "world," as it is in the King James version). It is quite common for the word "harvest" to be used to denote the "winning of souls" to Christ. From a limited perspective, I believe this is a legitimate analogy. However, scripturally speaking, we are dealing with epochal events which consummate six thousand years of human history, and open a new cycle and dimension of God's dealings with the earth and its inhabitants. The very metaphor of a "harvest" implies that seeds have been planted, and have grown to maturity over a process of time under the right conditions. Then follows the reaping and threshing that they might be transported to another place. Even so, the Lord's harvest involves the planting of His word-seed in the soil of human hearts (Mt. 13:19,23) followed by the right conditions for growth to maturity, in order that a great multitude of humans will be prepared for transport to another realm (the heavenly Kingdom) by having their physical bodies glorified at the close of this age.
- [Three Stages of Salvation Revealed in the Parable of the Sower]
In several of His parables, Jesus used the figure of the harvest to portray truths of His spiritual Kingdom. Mt. 13:3-9 records the parable of the Sower and Jesus gives the interpretation in Mt. 13:.8-23. I will not go into detail, but simply state that the parable speaks of the different kinds of soils (human hearts) and the different degrees of response to the Word of God, typified by the 30, 60 and 100 fold. In Mark's account of the same parable, Jesus follows with the statement, "Do you not understand THIS parable? How then will you understand all parables?" (Mk. 4:13). In other words, this is the KEY parable. It unlocks the other parables.
For my purpose here, I will just focus on one verse - Mt. 13:23, where Jesus states that the seed on the good ground brought forth "some a hundred, some sixty, some thirty fold." Thus declaring that there are THREE groups or categories of Christians and each of these three groups has a different destiny. This can be established and amplified on by numerous other teachings of Jesus, as well as seen in many pattern truths in the Old Testament. That is beyond the scope, however, of what I want to cover in this article, I will just quote one more parable given by Jesus to focus on the "maturity" question raised by the Canadian reader. I will quote in part Mark 4:26-29: "The Kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. . . for the earth yields crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But, when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come." Notice the three groups again. The "blade" corresponds to the 30 fold Christian, "the head" (but still green and partially filled) corresponds to the 60 fold, and the "full" (ripe) grain in the head corresponds to the 100 fold. Not only do we have pictured here the three categories of Christians, but also three stages of progress or growth.
In order to better understand the end time harvest picture, and just WHO is to be "harvested," I want to share briefly what takes place in the life of a believer in Christ in each of these progressive stages. The "thirty fold" or "blade" Christian is an intellectual believer only. Those in this category give "mental assent" to the truths of Christ, and believe that they should at least TRY to live somewhat of a respectable life. This group forms the bulk of church people in the world today. But there is no "seed" in a blade; therefore the thirty-fold have NOT been "born of the incorruptible seed" of Jesus Christ (I Pet. 1:23). Theirs is but a provisional salvation, conditioned upon their continued going TOWARDS Christ. Such, said Jesus, would by no means be cast out (John 6:37). However, they can (and many do) "drawback to perdition" (He. 10:39) returning to their former ways (II Pet. 2:20-22). The blades who fail to follow through are pictured in the parable of the Sower as those which "sprang up," but were either "scorched out" by tribulation or persecution (Mt. 13:5-6, 20-21) or "choked out" by the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches (Mt. 13:7, 22).
The "sixty-fold" are the HEART receivers (John 1:12-13). They have come to a deep seated repentance and have invited Christ to "come in" (Rev. 3:20) being "born anew" (John 3:3) of His deathless life seed, which is engrafted into the soul (James 1:21) causing them to pass from death to life (John 5:24). Theirs is a secured salvation which can never be lost (John 10:28-29). But pause now and THINK! This second stage in Mark 4:28 is called the "head" (or "ear" as it is rendered the King James Version). But in the context the clear implication is that the head of grain is yet green and not fully developed. It is not ready to be harvested (removed) from the earth realm (either by translation or out-resurrection) into the heavenly or glorified realm. The salvation of the thirty-fold or sixty-fold groups has nothing to do with heaven. Theirs is but to be preserved to remain on earth, or to be resurrected back to earth to continue to progress in God's plan. Their harvest from physical to glorified bodies is yet far into the future (a thousand years or more). The exception will be those now living who let the Lord prepare them in the coming tribulation for the harvest at the close of this age, now near at hand.
It is the hundred-fold who have the potential to become the full (ripe) grain in the head (Mk. 4:28) Christian, ready for harvest. That which introduces one into the hundredfold estate is the Holy Spirit baptism (Mt. 3:11, John 1:33). No, I am NOT referring to speaking in tongues, although that gift may or may not accompany the experience. The one who is immersed in the fire of God's Spirit does not need a special sign as an evidence of something that is in itself a life-transforming encounter with the living Christ. When properly understood and received according to the Divine pattern and intent, this infusion sanctifies the human tabernacle with the glory of the Lord (Ex. 29:43), purging the heart from bondage to carnality, being the "circumcision made without hands by the putting off of the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ" (Col. 2:11).
This estate of Spirit-sanctification, however, must be maintained by whole-hearted devotion to Christ and separation to Him. There must also be continued testing, proving, overcoming, and spiritual growth before being approved for the harvest. That approval is spoken of in James 1:12, "Blessed is the man who endures temptation, for when he has been proved, he will receive the crown of Life which the Lord has promised to those that love Him." That "CROWN of life" is life on the glorified plane, in contrast to the earthly. Read I Cor. 9:24-27, and note that Paul indicates he is "running" and "fighting" for that crown, lest he should be disqualified and lose out on that prize.
[The Two-Stage Rapture Defined by the Harvest Principle]
Look with me briefly at a parable in Mt. 13:24-30. Jesus speaks of the tares (the counterfeit) growing together with the grain until the harvest. Then the tares are gathered in bundles to be burned (in the vials of wrath at the close of the tribulation), but the wheat is gathered into the heavenly barn. Notice it is only the ripened wheat (100 fold) that is taken, not the blades (30 fold) or the partially filled green heads (60 fold). Do you go out to your garden or field and pick blades that are just sprouting up? Or pluck half filled ears or heads to take into your house? Or do you wait for the ripe grain, corn, etc. to harvest for use? Is not God at least as smart as man? You answer that! The ripe grain (100 fold) will be gathered into the heavenly barn (kingdom) in two groups. First the "first fruits" at the beginning of the tribulation, and then the "main harvest" at the close of the tribulation.
This two-fold harvest is graphically portrayed in Rev. 14:1-5 and 14:14-16. In between (14:6-13) there are three angels who give three proclamations relating to the great tribulation conditions:
1. the preaching of the everlasting gospel,
2. the fall of
, and Babylon
3. the warning against being subservient to the beast and his image.
Notice that only after the main harvest has been gathered (14:14-16) do we see the vine of the earth (the wicked) cast into the "wine press of the wrath of God" (14:17-20). This encompasses the seven vials of wrath described in Rev. 16:1-21.
[Paul’s Limited Rapture Teaching Seen within the Harvest Paradigm]
With the foregoing background in the foundational teachings of Jesus, I believe we can now fit Paul's "in part" understanding into the whole picture, keeping in mind that when Paul wrote, the complete picture of the end-time harvest had not yet been given by the One who is "The First and the Last" (Rev. 1:11). What Paul writes in I Thess. 4:13-18 must be placed at the end of the tribulation when the main harvest takes place, for at that time a great multitude of the elect (100 fold) will be glorified, both of those whose bodies are "asleep in Jesus" and those who are alive and remain (having survived the great tribulation). In the chronology of the harvest in Rev. 14, this would be encompassed in 14:14-16.
It becomes evident by the visions given to John in the book of Revelation that there will be martyrs during the great tribulation. I point this out here because it relates to the main harvest picture. In Rev. 20:4-5 John says, "And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, AND I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshipped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they LIVED and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. This is the FIRST resurrection."
Now please notice carefully. The first statement in Rev. 20:4 would refer to those translated and glorified without experiencing death. Then in the next statement in the same verse, John sees the SOULS of those who had been martyred; that is, he saw these saints clothed in their saved (preserved) soul bodies, before their physical bodies are restored to them (compare Rev. 6:9). But in the next statement he says, "and they LIVED." The Amplified version says, "and they LIVED AGAIN." This would refer to the resurrection and glorification of their physical bodies. Then in Rev. 20:5, John says, "This is the FIRST resurrection." It is obvious there can be more resurrections after the first, but certainly none before. The context of Rev. 20:4-6 clearly shows that this first resurrection comes AFTER the tribulation. I point this out because of the teaching of many evangelical fundamentalists that the resurrection and translation which Paul describes in I Thess. 4:13-15 takes place at the beginning of the tribulation. Impossible!! Otherwise the resurrection described in Rev. 20:4 would NOT be the first! This becomes conclusive, as far as I am concerned, that Paul's Thessalonian passage must be placed at the end of the tribulation. It also reinforces the fact that the "first fruits" of Rev. 14:1-5 are to be taken from among the LIVING only.
[NEXT: PART III ]
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