Sunday, our church began a series about the 2nd coming of Jesus called, “Ready or Not, Here I Come.” Toby (our lead pastor) and I realize that neither he nor I will be able to cover the topic completely through sermons, so over the next few weeks, I plan to write a few articles addressing some of the important aspects of Jesus’ second advent (coming). First up: the rapture.
I believe the Bible teaches that the church will be taken away suddenly and miss the great tribulation foreseen by the prophet Daniel and the apostle John. This view is called pre-tribulation pre-millennialism, and I plan to discuss it, along with other millennial views, in a future post. A common objection to this view is that the word rapture does not appear in the Bible. The truth is, however, the word does appear in Scripture, and the rapture is most certainly a biblical event. For the honest biblical scholar, the question must not be if the rapture will occur but rather when (at what stage in redemptive history) will the rapture occur?
16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
Did you see it? The word rapture is right there in plain English—I mean Greek—I mean Latin. 1st Thessalonians, like the rest of the New Testament, was written in Greek. Early in Christian history, scribes translated the original Greek Scriptures into Latin, and for the early part of church history, Latin was the language of the church. In verse 17, the word translated “caught up” is the Greek word “harpazo,” which translated into Latin is “rapiemur” or “rapio.” It is easy to see, therefore, that the word rapture is in the Bible—the Latin Bible. In fact, it is used in many more places than 1st Thessalonians 4:17. The most interesting uses of harpazo occur in Acts 8:39 when Phillip was suddenly taken away by the Holy Spirit from the presence of the Ethiopian eunuch and 2nd Corinthians 12:2-4 as Paul recounted being taken into heaven. When combined, these two events link harpazo with God suddenly taking someone to heaven.
The church (“those who are alive”) will be raptured—rapio—harpazo—caught up—suddenly, in the air, to be with the Lord forever. The question, therefore, is not if, but when the rapture will occur. Paul’s intention in this passage was to comfort the believers in Thessalonica and not to establish an end time’s timeline (see 5:1) so it is difficult to discern the timing of the rapture from this passage. Other passages, however, give strong evidence that the church will be caught up before the great tribulation, which according to the visions of Daniel and John will occur before a 1,000 year earthly reign of Jesus. Consider these verses and passages:
- 1st Thessalonians 1:10 and 5:9 say that Jesus delivers believers from the wrath to come.
- Romans 5:9 says that we are justified (made right) with God, AND saved from His wrath through Jesus.
- Matthew 24:36-44 and many other passages indicate that the coming of Jesus will be sudden and unexpected, even for believers. How could believers be surprised by the coming of Jesus if it takes place after tribulation events described so clearly in Revelation?
- Matthew 24:36-44 speaks of one person being taken and another person being left behind. Some believe that this is speaking of the final judgment, but if that is the case, who is left, and what does it mean that they are left? It seems more likely that it is speaking of a pre-tribulation rapture.
In addition to these passages, the most compelling evidence for a pre-tribulation rapture comes from the book of Revelation. Specifically, in Revelation 3:10, Jesus promised to rescue His faithful followers from the hour of trail that will come on the whole earth. It is hard to imagine that Jesus was referencing any event other than the tribulation, which is described in detail in the section immediately following chapter 3.
In discussing Revelation 3:10, I want to clear up another common error about the rapture. It is incorrect to believe or teach that only the really faithful Christians will be raptured. Jesus’ promises in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 are made to the conquerors (ESV) or overcomers (NIV). John, in his first epistle, identifies conquerors/overcomers by saying, “everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world . . .who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4-5)” In other words, all believers—not just the really faithful ones—will overcome the world and receive the promises of God including those concerning the rapture.
The final hint towards a pre-tribulation rapture comes from Revelation 4:1 in which Jesus commanded John to “come up” to heaven. Before that verse, the book of Revelation addressed issues in John’s day or the things “that are (Revelation 1:19),” and it completely focused on issues relating to churches. After that verse, the book of Revelation discussed the future, or “what must take place after this (Revelation 4:1),” and the church is not mentioned again until the closing remarks of the book. The church, which is one of the central subjects of the New Testament, is never mentioned during Revelation’s discussion of the tribulation. It seems, therefore, that John’s trip to heaven was symbolic of the rapture.
Will Jesus return? Most certainly. Will He rapture the church? Absolutely. Will the rapture occur before the tribulation? I believe so. May we never break fellowship over something which is not clearly laid out in Scripture.
Do you think the rapture will occur in your lifetime? Do you agree that the timing of the rapture is not an issue to break fellowship over? Why or why not? What about the rapture most excites you? Will you be a part of the rapture? If not, what keeps you from giving your life to Jesus?
 Calvin, John. Reprinted 2003. Calvin’s commentaries: Volume XXI Galatians-Philemon. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. Page 281.
 Martin, D. Michael. 1995. The new American commentary: Volume 33 1, 2 Thessalonians. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman.