Ready or Not, Here I Come: The word “rapture” is not in the Bible, or is it?

17 Apr

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[1]” or “rapio[2].” 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?

[1] Calvin, John. Reprinted 2003. Calvin’s commentaries: Volume XXI Galatians-Philemon. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. Page 281.

[2] Martin, D. Michael. 1995. The new American commentary: Volume 33 1, 2 Thessalonians. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman.

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11 responses to “Ready or Not, Here I Come: The word “rapture” is not in the Bible, or is it?

  1. Randy Helms

    April 17, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    Love it! I can tell that I’m going to grow a ton by reading these posts.

  2. Clayton Mullins

    April 17, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    Derek thank you for taking the time to write this blog. I really look forward to reading it in the future. I am a firm believer that eschatology is a very important area of theology. I do believe that Christ’s return is imminent and may very likely happen in our lifetime….and even it doesn’t that we should live like it will. I do not think that different beliefs about the rapture are grounds for breaking fellowship, but I do believe that there is a lot to lose if you are wrong; particularly if you are a pretrib rapture person. There is a lot of room for offense and falling away if the church does in fact go through the tribulation.
    I am not sure if I agree with some of the interpretations you have made that have led you towards your belief in pre-trib rapture. (which is fine, my disagreements take nothing away from the possibility that you are right) Here are a few thoughts I have:

    1. In the Thessalonians passages does it not seem more likely that “wrath” is speaking of eternal judgment and not the great tribulation. In chapter 5 verse 9 it actually says that very thing. “we are not destined for wrath but to obtain salvation. The contrast seems to be salvation and condemnation not temporal tribulation.

    2. I would ask the same question about Romans 5. Doesn’t seem like the context of Romans would lead us to think that wrath is eternal judgment? I am not sure how the great tribulation comes to mind here.

    3. In regards to the Matthew passages in my opinion it may be important to note that we are called to know the season that Christ returns even though we will never know the exact moment in time when Christ will return. While we are given events that are described in Revelation and other passages that indicate the season in which we are in we are not given the exact time and so when Christ returns can still be “like a thief in the night”. Admittedly though, this passage probably is the strongest argument for pre-trib in my opinion and I could see how it could be interpreted as pre-trib. I am not sure sure how to handle the passages of one “taken up” and the other “left behind” so I concede that this is a powerful passage for pretrib.

    4. I am not sure how one can read Revelation and ignore the presence of believers all throughout. Commentators of all theological persuasions recognize that there are a group of “servants of God” who appear throughout the book of Revelation, protected from God’s wrath though not from the persecution and even martyrdom unleashed by Satan and unbelieving humans (Rev. 7:1-8; 9:4; 12:17; 16:2; 18:4) Never the less these believers testify boldly on Gods behalf causing some to repent (11:1-3)

    Just some thoughts. Again I enjoyed your post and look forward to reading more.

    • jderekallen

      April 18, 2012 at 9:01 am


      Thanks for adding to the discussion. While preparing for this post, I quickly became a post millennialist, converted soundly to a historic pre-millenialist, and finally settled back where I started as a pre-trib pre-millennialist. You are certainly right about the passages in Thessalonians and Romans–they are surely referring to eternal wrath. One must consider, however, that they might be referring to both earthly wrath during the tribulation and eternal wrath in Hell. In other words, if the tribulation is part of God’s wrath, our salvation is sufficient to save us from all of God’s wrath. Granted, God could do this without removing the church from earth. The presence of believers throughout Revelation is one of my favorite aspects of the book. According to the pre-trib rapture view, those believers come to Christ during the tribulation.

      I also share your concern about believers falling away during difficult times, but I try to remind myself that endurance and overcoming are characteristics of faith rather than requirements for faith. I think our mutual concerns are confirmed by Scripture which warns that many will fall away–then the end will come. Thanks for reading and commenting. You have no idea how much it means to me that others would consider my words worthy of any type of comment.

  3. Wendy Baker

    April 18, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Derek — thanks so much for taking the time to give all of us educational material. I find articles like this allow us to dig deeper into the Word and learn more about our journey with Christ and how we should follow the Word of God. Thanks so much!!

  4. Toby

    April 18, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    Great work Dr. Allen!

  5. Lindsay (your wifey)

    April 18, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    Great article, sweetie. I had never thought of the idea that John’s trip to heaven could be symbolic of the rapture. Thank you for investing in others, including me! Love you!

  6. Caleb

    June 19, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    [Howdy, God Words. Please give me your analysis of the following item found on the web. Thanks.]


    How can the “rapture” be “imminent”? Acts 3:21 says that Jesus “must” stay in heaven (He’s now there with the Father) “until the times of restitution of all things” which includes, says Scofield, “the restoration of the theocracy under David’s Son” which obviously can’t begin before or during Antichrist’s reign. (“The Rapture Question,” by the long time No. 1 pretrib authority John Walvoord, didn’t dare to even list, in its scripture index, the too-hot-to-handle Acts 3:21!) Since Jesus can’t even leave heaven before the tribulation ends (Acts 2:34,35 echo this), the rapture therefore can’t take place before the end of the trib! (The same Acts verses were also too hot for John Darby – the so-called “father of dispensationalism” – to list in the scripture index in his “Letters”!)
    Paul explains the “times and the seasons” (I Thess. 5:1) of the catching up (I Thess. 4:17) as the “day of the Lord” (5:2) which FOLLOWS the posttrib sun/moon darkening (Matt. 24:29; Acts 2:20) WHEN “sudden destruction” (5:3) of the wicked occurs! The “rest” for “all them that believe” is tied to such destruction in II Thess. 1:6-10! (If the wicked are destroyed before or during the trib, who’d be left alive to serve the Antichrist?) Paul also ties the change-into-immortality “rapture” (I Cor. 15:52) to the posttrib end of “death” (15:54). (Will death be ended before or during the trib? Of course not! And vs. 54 is also tied to Isa. 25:8 which is Israel’s posttrib resurrection!)
    Many are unaware that before 1830 all Christians had always viewed I Thess. 4’s “catching up” as an integral part of the final second coming to earth. In 1830 this “rapture” was stretched forward and turned into a separate coming of Christ. To further strengthen their novel view, which the mass of evangelical scholars rejected throughout the 1800s, pretrib teachers in the early 1900s began to stretch forward the “day of the Lord” (what Darby and Scofield never dared to do) and hook it up with their already-stretched-forward “rapture.” Many leading evangelical scholars still weren’t convinced of pretrib, so pretrib teachers then began teaching that the “falling away” of II Thess. 2:3 is really a pretrib rapture (the same as saying that the “rapture” in 2:3 must happen before the “rapture” [“gathering”] in 2:1 can happen – the height of desperation!).
    Other Google articles on the 182-year-old pretrib rapture view include “Pretrib Rapture Politics,” “Pretrib Rapture Scholar Wannabes,” “Famous Rapture Watchers,” “Pretrib Rapture Diehards,” “X-Raying Margaret,” “Edward Irving is Unnerving,” “Thomas Ice (Bloopers),” “Walvoord Melts Ice,” “Wily Jeffrey,” “The Rapture Index (Mad Theology),” “America’s Pretrib Rapture Traffickers,” “Roots of (Warlike) Christian Zionism,” “Scholars Weigh My Research,” “Pretrib Hypocrisy,” “Appendix F: Thou Shalt Not Steal,” “Thieves’ Marketing,” “Pretrib Rapture Secrecy,” “Deceiving and Being Deceived,” “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty,” and “Christ’s return is NOT imminent!” – all by the author of the bestselling book “The Rapture Plot” (see Armageddon Books).

    • jderekallen

      June 22, 2012 at 8:50 am

      I think it is a somewhat dangerous habit to tell Jesus where He must stay and at what point He can come back to earth to receive His bride. Humility must reign in all theology, but it must especially rule in eschatology. I am reminded of the Pharisees by those who take a hard line on prophetic matters since the Pharisees and scribes rejected Jesus despite knowing all the OT prophecies about the Messiah. They allowed knowledge to limit their understanding. I think it is safe to say, however, that believers, and very quickly thereafter, the world, will know when the Day of the Lord comes. It will not be, as some believe, a spiritual return in the heavenly realm that really doesn’t impact the earthly realm. In other words, I am very convinced that Jesus did not “return” in the late 1800’s even though nothing really changed on earth. We will know when our King returns.

  7. Blessedone

    July 22, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    Thanks for this blog, this is really helpful, because whether we ready or not Jesus is coming again..


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