14.9. Typology and the Rapture

It is a well-established fact that Scripture contains typology—passages which do not explicitly teach doctrine, but which provide “hints” concerning aspects of God’s plans and actions. For example, Christ points to the incident where Moses raises a serpent on a pole (Num. Num. 21:9) as a type (demonstration or model ) of His crucifixion (John John 3:14-16). Although the doctrine of the crucifixion cannot be taught from the passage in Numbers, by God’s design the correlation between the incident of the serpent on a pole and the crucifixion is meant to be instructive and worthy of study:

Example of Biblical Typology: Moses and the Serpent on a Pole (Num. Num. 21:1)
Type (Model)Antitype (Fulfillment)
The Israelites were bitten by serpents resulting in death (Num. Num. 21:6). Adam and Eve, and by extension all of mankind, were “bitten by Satan” resulting in the curse of death (Gen. Gen. 3:1, Gen. 3:19).
Moses lifted up the serpent on a pole (Num. Num. 21:9). Jesus was lifted up on a tree (Acts Acts 5:30).
Moses placed a serpent on the pole (Num. Num. 21:9). Jesus was nailed to the cross. God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us (Isa. Isa. 53:6, Isa. 53:10; 2Cor. 2Cor. 5:21).
Merely looking on the serpent on the pole provided life (Num. Num. 21:9).1 Merely trusting in Jesus on the cross provides life (Isa. Isa. 45:22; John John 3:16; Rev. Rev. 2:7+).
The serpent was cursed (Gen. Gen. 3:14). Christ was made a curse for us (Gal. Gal. 3:13).
The serpent deceived man using a tree (Gen. Gen. 3:6; Num. Num. 21:9). Christ redeemed man using a tree (Acts Acts 10:39).
The serpent, representing sin, was brazen—a metal not consumed by fire, representing judgment (Num. Num. 21:9).Those who trust in Christ are sinners, but their sin is judged while they themselves are not consumed.

These are a few examples of the extent to which typology can reveal subtle aspects concerning a related event. Here, the serpent on a pole incident sets forth numerous aspects of the crucifixion of Christ hundreds of years in advance. We could make a similar study of Abraham’s offering of Isaac which models, in advance, the offering of another Son by another Father on the very same mountain (Gen. Gen. 22:1). Or we could point to the book of Ruth and the way in which Boaz, Ruth, and Naomi model Jesus, the Church, and Israel.2 Our point here is to establish the fact that God has embedded within the events of Scripture small “gems” of additional insight into future events for those with eyes to see them. These typological hints cannot be used to teach doctrine, but neither should they be ignored. The student of God’s Word who ignores them is overlooking a mine of riches. In the case of the Rapture and God’s judgment, we have several typological examples we might note:
  1. Noah’s flood: Enoch was raptured prior to the flood. (Noah and his family were preserved through the flood.)
  2. Sodom and Gomorrah: Lot and his daughters were rescued prior to judgment. The angels could not destroy Sodom until Lot had been removed (Gen. Gen. 19:22).
  3. After the seven letters to the seven churches of chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation, John hears a voice like a trumpet calling him up to heaven (Rev. Rev. 4:1+ cf. 1Th. 1Th. 4:16). Thereafter, the Church appears in heaven.
  4. The overcomer at the church of Thyatira is promised “the morning star” (Rev. Rev. 2:28+). The morning star is Christ (Rev. Rev. 22:16+). The morning star rises near the end of the long night, before the night has run its course and before the dawn. The night is the current age. The day is the millennial reign of Christ. The morning star will appear to those who watch for Him before the night concludes (Heb. Heb. 9:28).
These examples vary from somewhat simple and compelling (the rapture of Enoch prior to the flood) to complex and tenuous (the morning star) and are by no means exhaustive. On their own, they are mere hints or possibilities. But when combined with the other factors listed above, they reinforce the teaching that a category of believers—those who “walk with Him,” His own Body of Christ—will be taken up before He pours forth His wrath in judgment upon “those who dwell upon the earth.”

Postribulationalists reject this conclusion, contending there is no reason why Christians in the last generation deserve to escape the great tribulation. The fact is, however, that Christians in every other generation have escaped the great tribulation, so there is no reason why the last should be singled out for participation in it.3


Notes

1 Looking on the serpent was an act demonstrating faith.

2 Did the saints of Moses’ and Abraham’s day understand the details of these types? Perhaps some—like Moses and Abraham—did, but the majority probably did not. Yet it is clear that those who maintained a close relationship with God and carefully studied His Word often understand subtleties which others were unaware of (Luke Luke 2:25-38).

3 Henry Morris, The Revelation Record (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1983), Rev. 3:10.