Question: What does the church in Matthew 18:17 refer to? (Lee, Kiangsu)
Answer: In the four Gospels, only Matthew mentions the church. The Gospel of Matthew mentions the church twice, both of which are words spoken by our blessed Lord. One is in 16:18, and the other in 18:17. There are two biblical meanings for the word church: (1) The church that is composed of all those redeemed by the precious blood of the Lord. The Bible calls this the Body of Christ. (2) The believers in every place being gathered together to become the church in that place; for example, there is the church in Corinth, and there are the churches in Galatia. The first meaning refers to the universal church, whereas the second refers the local church as part of the universal church. (The present denominational churches are not scriptural churches. No doubt they are not the universal church, nor are they local churches, because the biblical local churches are called the churches in certain localities and do not have the names of different denominations or man-made administrations.)
The two mentions of the church in Matthew bear these two meanings. Verse 18 of chapter sixteen refers to the universal church, whereas 18:17 refers to the local church.
THE RAPTURE OF THE BELIEVERS
Question: Is the rapture of the church before or after the seven trumpets and the seven bowls? In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 there is the mentioning of the rapture of the church. In Revelation 8, 9, and 11:15 there is the mentioning of the seven trumpets, and in Revelation 15 and 16 there is the mentioning of the seven bowls. What is the order of these events? Which one comes first, and which one next? I would like you to help me concerning this. In discussing this issue, some people have placed the seven trumpets and the seven bowls after 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17! But according to the diagram that you have put out, you have clearly put the seven trumpets and seven bowls in Revelation 8 and 9 and 11:15 with chapters sixteen and seventeen before 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. I am really confused and would like you to help me. (Chow, Meng Tse)
Answer: To discuss this problem in detail is beyond the scope of this paper. Here you must forgive me for only mentioning it in brief. The expression "the rapture of the church" is not scriptural. The Bible never uses this term. A wrong term will lead to a wrong teaching. (The word church used here only refers to the real church, composed of those who are genuinely saved.) The Bible never says that the whole church (the real one) will be raptured. If that were the Lord’s intention, He would surely mention "the rapture of the church" at least once in the Bible. But there is no such mentioning, which shows that there is no such thing as the whole "church" being "raptured."
In my diagram, what I wanted to show was that there will be two raptures of the saints. Those saints who are saved and overcoming will be raptured to the air before the tribulation. Those saints who are only saved but not overcoming will be tried in the tribulation, and they will be raptured to the air only after they have matured. One rapture takes place at the beginning of the tribulation, and the other takes place at the end of the tribulation. That diagram only covers the rapture in 1 Thessalonians and how it is related to the seven trumpets; it does not cover the seven bowls. For the sake of clarity, perhaps I will explain it nevertheless. First let us consider the seven trumpets and the seven bowls. The first six trumpets have nothing to do with the seven bowls. Let us look at the seventh trumpet: "And the seventh angel trumpeted; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ" (Rev. 11:15). The kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ is the millennium. Hence, it is clear that as soon as the seventh trumpet is sounded, the millennium will be here. But what about the seven bowls? If the millennium comes as soon as the seventh trumpet is sounded, surely the seven bowls cannot come after the seventh trumpet. Hence, the seven bowls must not follow sequentially after the seventh trumpet. The wrath of the seven bowls is merely an addition to the previous judgments; they do not occupy much place in the history of Revelation. One cannot say definitely when the seven bowls will occur; they are there mainly as a supplement to the other tribulations.
Next, let us consider the rapture. We have already mentioned that there are two raptures for the church, one taking place at the beginning of the tribulation, and the other at the end of the tribulation. All prophecy scholars agree that 1 Thessalonians 4:16 will occur at the same time as 1 Corinthians 15:52. First Corinthians 15 clearly mentions "the last trumpet." If 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15 will occur before the seventh trumpet, how can there be another blowing of the seventh trumpet after "the last trumpet" ? Hence, at least we have to identify "the last trumpet" as the seventh trumpet. In this way, the rapture in 1 Thessalonians and 1 Corinthians must occur at the time of the sounding of the seventh trumpet, that is, toward the end of the tribulation. My answer therefore is that the timing of the seven bowls is not fixed. (Nevertheless, they will occur around the time of the seventh trumpet.) The rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4 occurs at the sounding of the seventh trumpet, which is at the end of the tribulation. The rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4 is the second rapture of the believers. The first rapture will take place before the tribulation.
Therefore, although we are saved, we must still be watchful and prepared, and we should not be entangled with the anxieties of this life. Otherwise, we will pass through the tribulation and will suffer, contrary to the Lord’s desire. A farmer will not reap an unripe harvest, and Christ will not rapture the unsanctified believers. (The Lord willing, we will have a detailed study on the question of the rapture in the future. Here we are only giving the conclusion; this is not a detailed analysis.)
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 07: The Christian (5), Chapter 13, by Watchman Nee)