A Look at the Rapture pt. 1

INTRODUCTION

In the introduction to his book Maranatha Our Lord Come! Renald Showers gives a list of all the different raptures in the Bible. Four have already taken place, and two are predicted to happen in the future. The raptures that have occurred in the past are: when Enoch and Elijah are taken from earth to heaven without experiencing death, when Christ ascended after the resurrection, and when Paul is taken up to the third heaven. One of the raptures to occur in the future takes place at the middle of the tribulation when God resurrects the two witnesses and then takes them to Heaven. The fifth rapture, and one which has yet to occur, is the one which affects the most people, and will be the focus of this paper. The Rapture is the imminent future event that occurs before the Tribulation and is the removal of all church saints, dead and alive, from the earth.[1]

THE WORD “RAPTURE”

Before diving into the complexities of the doctrine of the rapture, one must understand the history and meaning of the word “rapture.” It has been said that the term rapture shouldn’t be used for this doctrine since it never appears in the Bible. However, a look into the history of the word will show that this is an appropriate word to be used for this doctrine. The English word is taken from the Latin word rapturo in the Latin Vulgate.  The passage of scripture this word comes from is 1 Thessalonians 4:17 when Paul says that living believers will be “caught up” to meet the Lord in the clouds.

WHAT TAKES PLACE AT THE RAPTURE EVENT?

The word rapture is an accurate term to be used for this doctrine. Though the word rapture doesn’t appear in the text, the meaning of the word and what is used to describe make it an appropriate title. When one looks at what actually occurs at the rapture it can be seen that the word is used quite effectively here. Webster’s Dictionary defines rapture as “a state or experience of being carried away by overwhelming emotion.”[2] Charles Ryrie describes the meaning of rapture by saying “Rapture is a state or experience of being carried away. We are enraptured by the beauty of a sunset. Or we say that is sheer rapture to hear to hear a certain piece of music.”[3] The Greek word that is translated “caught up” in the Bible is harpazo, which literally means “to snatch or take away.”[4] Harpazo is used in several other places in the Bible. By looking at these uses it is possible to get a good picture of the idea behind the word. In Acts 8:39, the word is used when the Spirit transports Philip from Gaza to Caesarea, and again in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 when Paul describes being taken up to the third heaven.[5]

Looking at the definitions, one can get a basic understanding of what may occur at the Rapture. In his book What You Should Know About the Rapture, Ryrie observes that five components of the rapture can be gathered from looking at 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.[6] The first of which is the return of Christ. Verse 16 says “for the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” The Rapture event will start with the descent of Christ. Accompanying this portion of the Rapture will be three sounds. The first is a shout, but the text does not specify who it originates from. Next is “the voice of the archangel.” The text doesn’t say who the archangel will be. Ryrie points out that Michael is the only archangel mentioned by name (Jude 9), but that some passages may indicate there are multiple archangels. In Daniel 10:13, for example, Daniel says the king of Persia was standing against him, but then Michael, “one of the chief princes,” came to help him.[7] The final sound will be the trumpet of God. At the sound of the trumpet, the dead in Christ will rise up. This trumpet will also serve as a sign to unbelievers that they have missed the opportunity to accept Christ and to be raptured out before the tribulation occurs.

The second component of the Rapture is the resurrection. It is important to note that at this point in time not all of the dead will be raised; only those who believed in Christ from Pentecost to the time of the Rapture will be resurrected. Why does the resurrection only go back to Pentecost? Because it was not until the baptism of the Holy Spirit that believers were placed in Christ. Paul made this distinction because there is an order to who will be raptured and glorified. Paul had to explain that “the dead in Christ would rise” because there was fear and confusion among the Thessalonians regarding the fate of their dead loved ones. In Thessalonians 4:13 Paul writes “but we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep.” Apparently the Thessalonians knew about the rapture, Paul had taught them this. In the opening of the letter, Paul says it was well known that the Thessalonians were waiting for the coming of the Lord (1 Thess. 1:9, 10). But they were confused as to whether or not those who were dead would take part in the Rapture event. So Paul explains to them that not only will the dead be raptured, but “the dead in Christ would rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16).

The third factor of the Rapture event is the actual rapture. “Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:17). At the sound of the command, all living believers will be physically and miraculously removed from the earth. Remember that the text doesn’t clarify who is giving the shout, though it seems most likely that it will be Christ Himself who calls up the saints. The content of the command is also left out. Paul Benware points out that the command could be very similar to the command given to John in the book of Revelation (“Come up here” 4:1), or it could be like the command Christ says will be given to the dead (“for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice, and will come forth” John 5:28, 29). The point is that Christians who are alive will respond to the command and be removed from the earth without experiencing physical death.[8]

The fourth aspect of the Rapture is the reunion that will take place. “Then we…will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17). Again here, Paul seems to lay out a chronological order of events. The living Christians will be raptured up and will first meet those who have died (“together with them in the clouds”). After the deceased Christians are resurrected they will rise up to meet the Lord first. When the living Christians are raptured, the previously deceased believers will already be there waiting on them. At this time Christians will be reunited with their dead believing parents, grandparents, loved ones, and even past heroes of the faith. After that, the faith of the believers will finally be made into reality. From this point Christ will take us to the place that He has prepared for us. In John 14:2 and 3 Jesus states that “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. 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.” Believers will leave to spend the next seven years with Christ. During that time Christians will be judged at the bema seat, also known as the judgment seat of Christ. The point of this event is not judgment on believers, but rather an evaluation of the works the believer performed and subsequent rewards based on their rewards. Placing the bema seat in heaven during the Tribulation fits with Revelation 19:8; “it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” It would appear that the linen is given as a reward for what the saints did in their lifetimes. “This rewarding of believers assumes that some length of time must be involved. And a rapture that occurs before the final seven years allows for that needed time.”[9] After the bema seat the marriage of the lamb will take place.

The final component of the rapture from this passage Ryrie observes is reassurance. Verse 18 states “therefore comfort one another with these words.” Paul wanted the Thessalonians to understand that even though there is persecution and other problems in the world, the doctrine of the rapture is a beacon of hope in a dark world, letting believers know that their God and Savior will personally come to rescue them someday.

It is important to note that during the rapture event, Christ never actually touches down on the earth. This event is entirely separate from the second coming (which occurs at the end of the Tribulation). The second coming is when Christ touches down on the earth. The separation of these events is vastly important to determining when the rapture occurs, as will be noted later in the discussion of Pretribulationism and Posttribulationism.


[1] Showers, Renald. Maranatha Our Lord Come! p. 11

[2] “Rapture.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.

[3] Ryrie, Charles C. What You Should Know About the Rapture. p. 27

[4] Ryrie, Charles C. Basic Theology. p. 537

[5] Ryrie, Charles C. Basic Theology. p. 537

[6] Ryrie, Charles C. What You Should Know About the Rapture. p. 28-31

[7] Ryrie, Charles C. What You Should Know About the Rapture. p. 28

[8] Benware, Paul N. Understanding End Times Prophecy. p. 211

[9] Benware, Paul N. Understanding End Times Prophecy. p. 232

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