As a new Jesus-follower way, way back in the early 1970s, I was taken by a book called The Late, Great Planet Earth, by Hal Lindsey. In the book Lindsey talked about a "rapturing" of Jesus-followers who would be taken away to heaven when Jesus comes again. Some, unfortunately, will be "left behind." Now, 42 years later, I no longer believe in "the rapture." But I do believe Christ is coming again, but to restore these heavens and this earth.
Scripture affirms this.
The Jewish hope was always for THIS created world to be reclaimed.
Genesis 1 – God created…and saw that it was good.
Isaiah 65:17 says:
“See, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.
20 “Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred
will be thought a mere child;
When Jesus comes again there will be a new heavens and a new earth. Scripture supports this.
a. Eph. 1:8-10 - "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment— to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ."
b. Col. 1:19-20 - "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."
c. 2 Peter 3:11-13 -"Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells."
d. Rom. 8:18-21 - I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God."
e. On Rev. 21-22 N.T. Wright says: – “When we come to the picture of the actual end in Revelation 21-22, we find not ransomed souls making their way to a disembodied heaven but rather the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven, to earth, uniting the two in a lasting embrace." (N.T. Wright)
i. Rev. 21:1-4 - Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
But what about 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17?
“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of an archangel and the trumpet of God. The dead in Christ will rise first; then we, who are left alive, will be snatched up with them on clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.”
Wright writes: “When Paul speaks of "meeting" the Lord "in the air," the point is precisely not—as in the popular rapture theology—that the saved believers would then stay up in the air somewhere, away from earth. The point is that, having gone out to meet their returning Lord, they will escort him royally into his domain, that is, back to the place they have come from. (p. 133)
This is Bridegroom-Bride language. We will go to meet the coming Bridegroom, and escort him onto the new earth to be with his Bride.
Ben Witherington says that, in ancient Roman culture, when a royal person arrived to their city, a greeting committee would go out and escort him back into the city. In Jewish culture, when the bridegroom approached towards where the bride was, a welcoming group went out with their lamps and escorted the groom into the wedding place. “The classic texts thought to refer to the rapture, especially 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, say nothing about saints being taken suddenly into heaven. Rather, they go forth to meet Christ in the sky when he is returning, and then they return with him to the earth to reign.” (BW, Revelation, 261)
Paul’s image of the people “meeting the Lord in the air” should be read with the assumption that the people will immediately turn around and lead the Lord back to the newly remade world. (NTW)
Further, we read in Matthew 24: That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40
Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be
grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
Rapture theory assumes being “taken away” is a good thing. It is not. (Being "taken" is not necessarily a good thing, right?)
So, God made heaven and earth; at the last he will remake both and join them together forever. We, the Bride of Christ, will go forth to meet him when he appears, and lead the celebratory parade of the Bridegroom to his transformed earth.
A few years ago, at our summer conference in Green Lake, Wisconsin, YWAM's Dean Sherman was preaching about these kind of things. Dean said one of those things that just stays with a person. Speaking of life after this life, he said "I don't want heaven to have streets of gold. I want heaven to look like Green Lake." Me too. Paul said, "the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed." (Romans 8:19) As beautiful as Green Lake, Wisconsin, is, how much more shall it be when the kingdom of heaven is established in all its fullness!
N.T. Wright quotes from: Surprised by Hope.
Ben Witherington quotes from: Revelation.