The Rapture of the Church

The Bible reveals Jesus will return to earth; however, a distinction must be drawn between Jesus coming for His saints at the Rapture (John 14:1-3; 1 Cor 15:51-53; 1 Thess 4:13-18; 2 Thess 2:1-3a; Tit 2:13), and Jesus coming with His saints at His Second Coming to reign for a thousand years (Dan 7:13-14; Matt 19:28; 25:31; Rev 19:11-21). There are basically five views on the rapture of the church which are held by Bible scholars.

  1. Pre-Tribulation Rapture: The church is taken out of the world before the Tribulation begins (this author’s view).
  2. Partial Rapture: Only believers who faithfully watch for the Lord’s return will be raptured out of the world before the Tribulation.
  3. Mid-Tribulation Rapture: The church is taken out of the world in the middle of the Tribulation.
  4. Pre-Wrath Rapture: The church is taken out of the world before God’s wrath is greatest, just before Christ returns to establish His earthly kingdom.
  5. Post-Tribulation Rapture: The church is raptured up as Christ is returning to earth at His Second Coming.

The doctrine of the Rapture was first presented by the Lord Jesus when He provided new information to His apostles on the night before His crucifixion. After speaking of His soon departure (John 13:33), Jesus comforted them, saying, “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3). The place where Jesus was going was heaven. The purpose of His going was to prepare a place for them. And, at some unspecified time, Jesus promised He would come again to receive them to Himself, that they may be with Him.

Changed     Paul explained to the church at Corinth that the changing of our bodies at the Lord’s return was a mystery. Paul said, “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor 15:51-53). The word mystery translates the Greek word μυστήριον musterion, which means “the unmanifested or private counsel of God, (God’s) secret, the secret thoughts, plans, and dispensations of God.”[1] A mystery was something “which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints” (Col 1:26). What Paul revealed for the first time—not found in the OT—pertained to the physical transformation that occurs at the Rapture, that our mortal bodies will be transformed into immortal ones.

Raptured     Paul described a time in which Christians will be raptured out of the world and taken to heaven. He explained, “the dead in Christ shall rise first [i.e. be resurrected]. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up [ἁρπάζω harpazo] together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:16b-17). The meaning of ἁρπάζω harpazo is “to grab or seize suddenly so as to remove or gain control, snatch/take away.”[2] The form of the Greek verb is passive, which means the Christian will offer no resistance when the Lord removes His church in a moment, without notice, and by force.

The Latin translation of this verse used the word rapturo. The Greek word it translates is harpazō, which means to snatch or take away. Elsewhere it is used to describe how the Spirit caught up Philip near Gaza and brought him to Caesarea (Acts 8:39) and to describe Paul’s experience of being caught up into the third heaven (2 Cor 12:2–4). Thus, there can be no doubt that the word is used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 to indicate the actual removal of people from earth to heaven.[3]

Some have asserted that the Rapture is not a biblical doctrine because, they argue, the word Rapture is not mentioned in the English Bible. However, the word Rapture comes from the words “caught up” in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. This verse could be translated, “Then we who are alive and remain shall be raptured together with them in the clouds.” The important point is that the verse says Christ will come for believers and take them from the earth to heaven, where they will be in His presence till they return with Him to the earth to reign. The Rapture will mean that all believers “will be with the Lord forever,” enjoying Him and His presence for all eternity.[4]

Paul reaffirmed his teaching of the Rapture in his second letter to the church at Thessalonica. Apparently, someone had upset the Christians living in Thessalonica by writing a false letter, as if from Paul, that the Rapture had already occurred and their suffering was a result of entering into the time of the Tribulation. Paul said, “Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him [at the Rapture], that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us [i.e. a false letter], to the effect that the day of the Lord has come [day of the Lord = seven year Tribulation]” (2 Thess 2:1-2). Paul explained the Rapture could not have occurred yet, saying, “for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first” (2 Thess 2:3a). The word apostasy translates the Greek word ἀποστασία apostasia, which is believed by the majority of scholars today to refer to a special end-time rebellion against biblical teaching. Though this departure from God’s Word will happen in the days leading up to the Rapture (1 Tim 4:1-3; 2 Tim 3:1-5; 4:3-4; 2 Pet 3:3-6), it is argued—quit convincingly—by some Bible scholars that the word ἀποστασία apostasia is better understood as referring to the physical departure of the church at the time of the Rapture.[5] Dr. Thomas Ice states:

I believe that there is a strong possibility that 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is speaking of the rapture. What do I mean? Some pretribulationists, like myself, think that the Greek noun apostasia, usually translated “apostasy,” is a reference to the rapture and should be translated “departure.” Thus, this passage would be saying that the day of the Lord will not come until the rapture comes before it. If apostasia is a reference to a physical departure, then 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is strong evidence for pretribulationism.[6]

The above passages, taken as a whole, argue convincingly that we are “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Tit 2:13). The appearing of Christ at the Rapture is what the Christian is looking for, since that is the next prophetic event to come. This Rapture is immanent, meaning it may occur at any time and without prior notice. All Christians who are alive at the time of the Rapture will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, will go with Him to heaven, and be spared the wrath to be poured out during the seven-year Tribulation. Our future is not one of judgment; rather, we are assured we will be spared God’s future wrath, both in time and eternity (Rom 5:9; 1 Thess 1:10; 5:9; Rev 3:10).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Audio Lesson:

[1] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 662.

[2] Ibid., 134.

[3] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 537.

[4] Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, Understanding Christian Theology (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003), 1265.

[5] Among these are Dr. E. Schuyler English, Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost, Dr. Thomas Ice, Dr. Andy Woods, Dr. Paul Lee Tan, Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Dr. Dave Olander, and others.

[6] Thomas Ice, “The Rapture in 2 Thessalonians 2:3″ (2009). Article Archives. 82.
https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/pretrib_arch/82.

About Dr. Steven R. Cook

Dr. Steven R. Cook is a Christian educator. He is protestant, non-charismatic, and dispensational. Studies in the original languages of Scripture, ancient history, and systematic theology have been the foundation for Steven’s teaching and writing ministry. He has written several Christian books, dozens of articles on Christian theology, and recorded more than seven hundred hours of audio and video sermons. Steven currently serves as professor of Bible and Theology at Tyndale Theological Seminary, and hosts weekly Bible studies at his home in Texas.
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1 Response to The Rapture of the Church

  1. Pingback: The Seven Year Tribulation | Thinking on Scripture

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