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.
The Universe Eagerly Awaits Us
In this key statement, Paul makes two assertions that are truly stunning in their import.
First, the adoption is the redemption of our body. It is synonymous with the resurrection, which occurs at the rapture of the church.
Second, the entire Creation waits for the completed revelation (translated “manifestation”) of the adopted children of God. It seems that there is some future event of great importance that can’t happen until that signal moment in which the adoptive process is completed, and the church is caught up and glorified.
At that time, we will ascend into an entirely new role. In part, it is to rule and reign with Christ. After “… the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9), and the establishment of the Kingdom Age, we will share the administration of God’s Kingdom. But if what Paul says is true, we will also participate in the restoration of the broken and sin-wracked universe.
No doubt, there are other aspects of the resurrection that will only be known after it happens. It is a deep mystery, but for some reason, the reconciliation process for the Creation cannot be brought to pass until the body of Christ is complete.
We do know that when Satan fell, the Creation became enslaved to a growing corruption, and an abiding emptiness … vanity. Somehow, when we rise to the realms of glory, the Creation will also be delivered. According to Paul’s words, it will be freed from the enduring corruption that has rendered it a place of pain.
Concerning our universe, one of the early discoveries of physicists is that in systems using energy, some of it will always be dispersed or dissipated. Once lost, it cannot be restored. With passing time, systems are said to proceed from order to disorder. The irreversibility of this energy loss has been called entropy. Under the present conditions, the arrow of time points only toward increasing chaos and emptiness.
In the 17th century, English mathematician and scientist Isaac Newton and his contemporaries saw the universe as a place of clockwork perfection. Later, as observations were increasingly perfected and the power of instruments increased, it came to be seen as a place of collisions, cataclysms, explosions, supernovae and geophysical decline - entropy. As described by Paul, it is in bondage to corruption.
Truly, the entire Creation groans and travails in pain, awaiting the restoration of its original ordered energy state. In some way not yet completely understood, the redemption of believers and their ultimate adoptive glorification will be used in this process. It is a spectacular and surprising fact that the universe and its present keepers are waiting in a state of suspense, until this process is completed.
The Celestial Theater
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul made one of the most humble statements in Scripture. Speaking of himself as a minister of Christ, Paul wrote concerning the activity of the angels, as they observed the growth of the early church. Almost in passing he reveals an interesting fact:
“And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.
“For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?
“Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you.
“For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.
“We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised” (I Cor. 4:6-10).
Indeed, the Apostles were -- and are -- a spectacle to the world. The word “spectacle” is from the Greek theatron, from which comes our word “theater.” Thinking about this, we are immediately reminded of the historical diorama of the church. Its procession of shining successes, miserable failures, internal corruption, martyred saints, heroic witnesses, and laborious carrying-forth of the Gospel are perhaps the most dramatic theater in the history of this earth.
From the earliest days of Graeco-Roman society, theater was the cultural glue that held a community together. Every major city in the ancient world had its amphitheater, where plays, music, orations, religious dramas and politics were played out to audiences numbering in the thousands. In the city of Ephesus, the theater could seat twenty-five thousand people!
In the most literal sense, Paul was made a central figure in that theater, after his ministry there became so effective that the pagan powers of that city gathered in the theater to publicly demand his arrest. The worshippers of Diana filled the theater, creating an uproar, as they attempted to thwart Paul’s teaching, and by extension, the growth of the early church. But because Paul and his companions hadn’t directly opposed the existing society or religion, they weren’t found guilty of breaking any specific Roman law. Still, in that confrontation, the Apostle’s cause was furthered by the noisy publicity of the theater.
In the epistle to the Hebrews, the same term -- theatron -- is used to describe the plight of early Christians, as they battled both Roman and Jewish authorities in their effort to spread the good news of the resurrected Christ. In the following quote, the term “gazingstock” is a translation of the word:
“But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions;
“Partly, whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used” (Heb. 10:32, 33).
But being “made a spectacle unto the world,” encompasses a sphere of activity far larger than any amphitheater, or for that matter, today’s global satellite television. As we often point out, the “world” of the New Testament includes far more than life on the face of planet Earth. It is, in fact, the cosmos, or “world system,” which includes not only the powers of this planet, but the unseen heavens, where “principalities and powers” are in an ages-long contest for supremacy. The redeemed man is “Exhibit A” in this battle.
Perhaps the best-known example of this fact is found in the book of Job, where an ancient landowner of great wealth becomes a theatrical spectacle to the powers above:
“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them.
“And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.
“And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?
“Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought?
“Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land.
“But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.
“And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD” (Job 1:6-12).
Scholars agree that Job is an ancient book, perhaps dating back to the days prior to the call of Abraham. His life span alone (probably 175 to 200 years) suggests that he lived in the years just following the dispersion at the Tower of Babel.
As a man of wealth and influence, Job became a kind of representative for the common man of the Middle East. In other words, he is a key exhibit in the long panoramic battle for man’s soul.
His life literally became a theatrical production. The Lord used him as a demonstration of faith under extreme testing. The message in Job’s struggle was intended first, for Satan, and no doubt for his fallen angels, then most probably for the host of angels who had remained faithful to the Lord. Job’s life is a kind of passion play, an encouragement for each and every redeemed life since he battled his way back from a series of diseases and disasters.
In very real terms, Job represents a microcosm of the universal groaning and travailing in pain that was brought about by Satan’s rebellion. Not only the physical Creation, but an incalculable myriad of heavenly spectators eagerly watch the redemption process. In a way, they are like us, intensely awaiting the completion of the reconciliation.
The Prophets and the Angels
Peter writes most persuasively about the woeful state of the world system, and the spectacle that it presents on the universal scale. He begins by describing an incorruptible inheritance. In other words, he foresees the Creation in its future, restored state … the precise opposite of its current condition. He writes concerning the hope of the redeemed and the inheritance (remember the adoption, so persuasively depicted by Paul) of something entirely incorruptible and eternal.
He is, in plain terms, describing a future universe without entropy -- without sin -- and without Satan. In the following passage, he invokes all these ideas, including the trial of one’s faith, recalling the life of Job, whose friends and advisors failed to understand the real purpose of the Lord in the vast process of restoring the Creation to its original, unblemished state:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
“ To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,
“ Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
“Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:
“ That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (I Pet. 1:3-7).
Like Paul, Peter sees the trial of one’s faith in the adoptive process as central, both to the perfection of one’s walk with the Lord, and ultimately, in the restoration of the universe. As we have previously noted, the entire cosmic order is poised in a state of suspense, pending the moment when the trumpet sounds and the saints arise.
As Peter continues his discourse, this thought emerges in dramatic fashion:
“Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:
“Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.
“Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:
“Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.
“Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into” (I Pet. 1:8-12).
Peter confirms that from the ancient days of Job to the present era of the church, the powers in the heavens have marveled at the complex and detailed redemptive plan of God. And well they might, since redemption is something that the angels do not personally experience. Those who did not follow Satan have no need of it. Those who did, are not eligible for redemption, since, as we understand the matter, Jesus did not die for the angels that sinned, but for human beings who were born into a state of preexisting sin.
Here, Peter acknowledges the astonishing fact that the “salvation” which is to be finally realized in the glorification of the saints was not fully understood by even the prophets who wrote of it. This “salvation” is not merely the individual experience of each saint, but the final glorification of all saints, as well as the cosmos! It is clear that even the angels are not in a position to fully understand its details.
It is most important to see the language of Peter’s statement. When he writes that the angels desire to “look into” the facts surrounding the reconciliation of the cosmos, they do so with an eager fervency. The Greek word, parakupto, means that they lean forward, or bend down to look into the progress of salvation. It is of consuming interest to them.
The angels were present at the creation of the earth. Though unable to completely understand it, they rejoiced at God’s plan to redeem the broken Creation. As God told Job, they literally sang with joy as they saw what He was doing: “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” (Job 38:7).
The Long-Ago Adoption
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the defining facts of the body of Christ are carefully laid out, in transcendent language. He speaks, not only of the foundation of the earth, but of “the foundation of the world” -- the vast cosmic system that the Bible constantly describes as a broken system that is falling toward final corruption.
Since we live within the strictures of time-space, there is no way for us to imagine how we were chosen before the foundation of the cosmos. Nevertheless, we were predestined to be adopted as sons. His language is precisely the same as found in the epistle to the Romans, quoted earlier in this article:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:
“According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
“Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,
“To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.
“In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;
“Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence;
“Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself:
“That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him” (Eph. 1:3-10).
Here, we find the most compact and precise link between the adoption of His children and the restoration of “all things.” Notice that this includes the universe that we can see, as well as the ones behind the veil. Once again, Paul paints the picture of a shattered system that awaits repair.
Actually, It Awaits Us!
Certainly, the Lord arose and proclaimed victory to the denizens of the underworld. After His resurrection, “… he went and preached unto the spirits in prison” (I Pet. 3:19). His victory over Satan and the ruin he caused was complete, and Jesus left no doubt about this fact, even to the nethermost regions of hades.
But what they didn’t know was that the Lord had included a future body of believers in his grand design. Why? We simply don’t know … except for one thing: His love. He has lovingly invited us to be adopted into His family. In practical terms, the restoration of all things was complete, all but the completion of His body by adoption.
Yes, His work was finished. But then began the unfolding drama of the church age. Over the past two millennia, millions of saints were born, then born again. They joined the ranks of those awaiting “the fulness of times.”
Exciting times are just ahead. The adoption is almost complete. The saints will rise in glory to join the family business. They will participate in the completion of a beautiful design that was first laid out in eons past by a God whose love is beyond our comprehension.