More and more people are beginning to notice that we live in very unusual times, leading to a renewed interest in the end times, and what the Bible has to say about it. That brings up the question of the rapture of the church – one of the most controversial aspects of the Christian faith today. Add to that the various views on the rapture, and it becomes the kind of stuff that divides the brethren. May the Lord help us to love each other beyond our personal opinions!
Three different views exist on the timing of the rapture, namely before the seven year Tribulation (Pre-Trib); the middle of the Tribulation period (Mid-Trib), and the end of the Tribulation (Post Trib). There are also some Christians who do not believe that there will be a rapture. All of these points of view are being supported by Scripture, which can make it a contentious topic to discuss.
Without going through all the arguments of the different points of view, let us take a look at some verses in the Bible from which the rapture is contrived. It is interesting to note that the word rapture doesn’t appear in most English translations of the Bible, although words to that effect do appear in some other languages. We all know that most of the New Testament was originally written in Greek, so it makes sense to have a look at it with the help of a concordance.
Serious Bible students will find the Blue Letter Bible very handy for Bible studies. Greek words are rich in meaning and can be interpreted in different ways, so it is helpful to see how a word that you want to study is used in different verses, and how it is interpreted every time. Let us look at one of the key verses that is used to support the argument for the rapture:
Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:17
What we are looking for is the phrase caught up. The Greek word from which it is translated is harpázō, and Strong’s Concordance explains it as: catch up (4x), take by force (3x), catch away (2x), pluck (2x), catch (1x), pull (1x). Note that harpázō is used several times in the New Testament.
Other verses where harpázō appears are:
When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away (harpázō) what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. Matthew 13:19
My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch (harpázō) them out of My Father’s hand. John 10:29
Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away (harpázō), so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. Acts 8:39
And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force (harpázō) from among them, and to bring him into the castle. Acts 23:10
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago–whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows–such a one was caught up (harpázō) to the third heaven. And I know such a man–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows–how he was caught up (harpázō) into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. 2 Corinthians 12:2-4
Looking at the verses above, (and others) where harpázō is used, a well defined pattern emerges that explains the common usage of the word to mean: to seize, carry off by force; to seize on, claim for one’s self eagerly; to snatch out or away. Strong’s defines harpázō as: to seize (in various applications):—catch (away, up), pluck, pull, take (by force). Whichever way, a removal is clearly evident in the meaning of harpázō.
Since the rapture of the church makes little sense to our rational minds, we look for precedent in Scripture to find confirmation in similar events. Much of what God does in the world follows an established pattern, such as the shadows, types and symbols that are mentioned in several places, for example. Our search produces the following incidents:
And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him. Genesis 5:24
And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. 2 Kings 2:11
Both Enoch and Elijah were taken up into heaven alive. Their “raptures” did not happen to save them from any impending catastrophes; instead it seems to have been a reward for their intimate walk with God. That said though, both Noah and Lot with their families were removed before God’s wrath was released on the ungodly, indicating God’s grace toward those who walk uprightly among the wicked.
That raises the question of the timing of the rapture of the church, and especially in relation to the Tribulation. Will God rapture the church to save her from the Tribulation? The Bible doesn’t say so explicitly, although it can be read between the lines if one considers the kind of relationship that the Lord has with the church.
Ephesians 5:22-33 explains in great detail how the Lord sees the church as His bride whom He loved so much that He gave His life for her. What kind of love would allow one’s bride to go through the horrors of the likes of the Tribulation, either to see if she really loved him, or to purify her for himself? Didn’t He purify His bride with His own blood already?
The rapture seems to be more of an event to unite the Bride with her Bridegroom than an escape from the wrath that is to come, although that is a good occasion to do so. Jesus Himself put His coming in this context with the parable of the ten virgins. (See Matthew 25:1-13) Look also at the verses below:
Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. 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
Don’t forget the golden rule for Bible study, “When the plain sense makes good sense, seek no other sense lest you end up with nonsense.”
A belief in the rapture is a great motivator for evangelism, and it keeps you in a state of readiness, just as the parable of the ten virgins encourages us to do. Let us therefore keep our lamps full of oil, neatly trimmed, and shining brightly, ready to meet the Bridegroom!
Will the church go through the Tribulation? That is a question for another day, but for now, let us expect the best, and prepare for the worst.