THE RAPTURE OF THE CHURCHby James R. Gray
It has been said that about one fourth of the Bible contains unfulfilled prophecy. That means there are a lot of events still coming, for God will not permit His Word to remain unfulfilled. The next major event is revealed in I Thessalonians 4:13-18, and is referred to by students as the Rapture of the Church. Some object to the word rapture because the word does not appear in any reference of Scripture. Because the word does not appear in the Scripture some try to discredit the word and the truth it represents. The word "rapture" comes form the Latin word "rapere" meaning "to seize," or "to snatch."
Thus, the term "rapture" is applied to the doctrine of the "catching up" of believers. Paul uses the term in I Thess. 4:17 when he declares that we "who are alive and remain shall be caught up together" to meet our Savior in the air. The Greek word is harpagesometha, which comes from the verb harpaso meaning to snatch or catch away. The word is found 13 times in the New Testament and almost always implies a change of location of an object or a person (Acts 8:39, II Cor. 12:2-4).
PARTICIPANTS OF THE RAPTURE
I Thessalonians 4:13-18 presents four participants. First, is the Lord Himself. The Word "Himself" is in the emphatic position, meaning the "same" Jesus who died and was resurrected will begin this great event.
Second, we see the Archangel. This is perhaps Michael (cf. Daniel 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 9; Revelation 12:7).
Third, believers who have died before this event takes place. This is not a general resurrection of all the dead, but a particular resurrection of believers. These believers are those who are "asleep," that is, who are "dead in Christ." The Spirit of God places us into Christ upon the act of faith in Christ as our Saviour.
Fourth, believers who are alive at the time of this event. Twice Paul uses the phrase "we who are alive and remain" (v. 15,17).
The student should note, however, that while the passage gives us four participants, the emphasis is upon those who are alive and remain. The main purpose of this passage is to show the relationship between those who have died and those who were alive at the time of this event. They were not ignorant of the resurrection. "Paul writes, not to teach the fact of resurrection, but rather the fact that at the rapture the living would not have an advantage over the dead in Christ." 1
THE PUZZLE OF THE RAPTURE
Why were the Thessalonians puzzled about this relationship? Because what Paul taught them about the rapture was new. Until the time of Paul, Scripture gives no indication that believers would be "caught up to meet the Lord in the air," nor that their bodies would be "changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" (I Cor. 15:51-52). It was a revelation given to Paul alone. It was a "mystery," hidden in God, until it was revealed to Paul.
The revealed mystery is that, at the time of the rapture, those who are alive and remain will be changed. The word is the Greek verb allasso, meaning to make other than it is, to transform, change. The character of this change involves are indicated by the words, "incorruption" and "immortality." The word incorruption means unable to destroy, and immortality means deathless. In Colossians 3:4 Paul tells us; "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then we will appear with Him in glory." Philippians 3:21 tells us this change of our bodies will be "fashioned like His glorious body." Nowhere else, except with Paul, do these truths become known. They were written distinctively to the Church, the body of Christ.
THE PLACE OF THE RAPTURE
While almost all believers believe in rapture, there is great division on the place or time it will occur. Some believe it will occur before, some after, and a few during the Tribulation Period. The real question is: does Scripture teach where or when the rapture will occur? While some say there is no direct Scriptural evidence to the question, I disagree. Paul gives us the place of the rapture in I Thessalonians. The context of the rapture and end times does not stop at the chapter division, continue to read. I Thessalonians 5:1-11 reveals the following facts:
First, the context deals with end time events. This is clearly seen in the phrases "times and seasons" and "the day of the Lord." Note also the word "but" (Greek: de) this is a word of contrast. Paul is beginning a new subject that is in contrast to the events that he has just described. The subject is clearly another end time event: The Day of the Lord.
Second, we see the description of the Day of the Lord. It is described as a "thief in the night," and "darkness" (v. 2, 4-5). It is also a time of "destruction" and "travail." This refers to the Tribulation Period is confirmed by Scripture. Compare the great passages on the Tribulation in the Old Testament. There we read:
"Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and he shall destroy the sinners out of it. For the stars of heaven shall not give their light; the sun shall be darkened in its going forth, and the moon shall not cause its light to shine. And I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogance of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible" (Isaiah 13:9-11).
"The great day of the Lord is near, it is near, and hasteneth greatly, even the voice of the day of the Lord; the mighty man shall cry there bitterly. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness (Zephaniah 1:14-15).
Also see Zechariah 14:1-8 and Joel 2:1-2; 3:14-21. From this comparison it should be clear that Paul is writing about the Tribulation Period, a time of darkness and wrath.
Third, note the believers' relationship to this time of darkness and wrath. There is a contrast between "you," "us," "we," (v 1-2,4-6,8-11) and "they" and "others" (v. 3, 6-7). There are two groups of people, those who are in or a part of this darkness, and those who are not. It is Paul and his readers that are "not in darkness" (v 4), "not of the night, nor of darkness" (v 5), "not appointed us for wrath" (v 9). The believer is appointed to salvation. Salvation to or from what? To be delivered from this darkness; the Day of the Lord. The word, "salvation" in this context, is used of physical deliverance, not simply spiritual. The context demands that salvation be a physical deliverance from the wrath of God.
Paul is clearly showing that believers are not a part of that coming day of wrath and darkness. Why? Because the believers are raptured from that day of wrath and darkness. This is the message of comfort (4:18, 5:10).
Another passage that may indicate the place of the rapture is II Thessalonians 2. Paul is writing to assure them that the Day of the Lord had not come, as some were teaching. In verse 3, he declares: "let no man deceive you by any means; for the day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition." Thus, the day of the Lord will not come until two events happen. One is that the Antichrist must be revealed and the other is the apostasia. Two things the student should note: First, the Greek text has the article, thus, it should be translated "the apostasia." Second, the word apostasia means departure. Kenneth Wuest tells us;
The A.V. offers an interpretation of the Greek word, "apostasia" instead of translating it and allowing the Spirit taught believer to interpret the context. The words are "a falling away," the thought being of "a falling away from the true doctrine," which is a case of exegesis (reading into the text that which is not there). The word considered in its historical background and context should be translated, "departure,"...the definite article occurring before the word makes it apply to a particular departure, one known to the writer and the recipients of the letter. It is the departure of the church spoken of in 2:1, "our gathering together unto Him," and previously described in detail to the Thessalonians in Paul's first letter to them (4:13-18). 2
It is interesting to note that the modern translation translate the word apostasy, but not in the early versions. Almost all of them, such as the Coverdale Bible, Wycliffe Bible, Tyndale Bible, Beza Bible, and the Geneva Bible translated the word as "departure." House notes that the "key is that it [apostasia] does not inherently carry the meaning of defection or revolt. It does so only because of the contexts in which it is found." 3
PURPOSE OF THE RAPTURE
The purpose of the rapture is at least three-fold:
First, to gather together in one, all members of the body of Christ, His Church, to be taken to Heavenly. We have a heavenly calling (Phil. 1:20). Positionally we are there now (Eph. 1:3, 6). We are a part of God's heavenly kingdom (II Timothy 4:18), that is our hope. Our purpose in the heavenlies will be to make known God's wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places (Eph. 3:10). In this light, C.F. Baker's comments are both interesting and noteworthy.
Second, To judge and reward the Church (II Cor. 5:10).
Third, To remove the Restrainer from the earth (2 Thess. 2:7). The Restrainer is the Holy Spirit through the church. He has always been exerting His restraining influence (Gen. 6:3). He indwells believers and restrains the work of evil. At the rapture, this restraining power is taken out of the way. Walvoord reminds us:
If the Spirit of God indwells the church and the church is taken out of the world, then the Spirit of God will also be taken out of the world. This does not mean that the Spirit will not continue working in the world in some way, but no longer as the Restrainer.
The very removal of both the church and the Spirit from the world will release the world to sin as if never has before. The presence of believers in the world exerts a great influence upon the wicked world. Christian who have stood for civic righteousness and law and order will no longer be in evidence. For the time being at least, there will be no one except unsaved people to run government. The net result will be that evil will be manifested beyond anything known in the history of man. The "mystery of iniquity" is, of course, already working, as mentioned in verse 7, but the Holy Spirit is now restraining until He is taken away at the translation of the church. When this occurs, it is revealed in verse 8 that "then shall that Wicked one be revealed whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming. 4
How we as believers should be "looking for that blessed hope, the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour, Jesus Christ." (Titus 2:13).
1 J. Dwight Pentecost, THINGS TO COME, 209
2 Kenneth Wuest, PROPHETIC LIGHT IN THE PRESENT DARKNESS, 57.
3 H. Wayne House, "Apostasia in 2 Thessalonians 2:3: Apostasy or Rapture?" WHEN THE TRUMPET SOUND, (Harvest House, Eugene OR 1995), 273.
4 John Walvoord, THE THESSALONIAN EPISTLES, 125-126.
Copyright 2000, James R Gray / Bible Magazine, www.BereanAdvocate.com, electronic media.