Where does this all come from? Look at the text:
According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17
Let’s take a look: the context is Paul being “pastoral” and encouraging his people who were being martyred, and seeing their loved ones killed or imprisoned at worst and at best losing their homes and livelihood. In these extreme tough times, Paul addresses his grieving people with a prophecy to look forward to. He gives a hope to foster them with the consolation of anticipation of what Jesus will do to support them, so they can press on with their persevering faith. The prophecy is real and will come about; the fact of our Lord’s return is a reality that no Christian group that adheres to God’s Word would deny. The questions and debates center on what is not important, and that is the details of when and how this will come about. One of these details is called the Rapture where Christians will be caught up and rise into the air to meet Jesus in the clouds. The passage in English clearly teaches this, or so I thought until a little research told me otherwise. And now, I was faced with a paradigm shift in my eschatological thinking.
What I had always thought was not backed up with facts—only presumptions. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 has been the principle passage for this theory. It is interesting to note that none of the Church Fathers nor any of the Reformers or anyone in Church History taught this “theory” until the 1830’s when heretical groups ignoring the context of the passage, Greek word meaning, and the meaning of the metaphors in question, as what they meant to a first century Jew or Greek.
The word rapture is not in the Bible, which is not a problem since many theological terms are not in the Bible such as Trinity or essential ministries such as Youth Ministry. But, the concept of a rapture cannot be found either. It is, at best, a misunderstanding, and at worst, a cynical, sinister pawn to distract us—the Church—from that to which God is calling us. As a word, rapture is originally from a Latin word meaning “caught up” or “caught away”, and is based on 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17. The exegetical problem is our being “caught up” with Him as air being lifted up in the sky. Is this what the text actually says? In reality, it was a Greek military term set in Jewish judgment language that is used here; John and His readers would have laughed at our theories! Let’s look at this word-by-word in the Word.
- Word of the Lord means Jesus is telling us all that He indeed is coming and when He does it will be loud and clear. This was a term used in other ancient texts for a special visiting king who was celebrated (Matt. 24:27; Luke 22:61; Acts 20:35; 1 Cor. 7:10).
- Shout/loud command, refers to a command or a stern summons, and in connection with Trumpet (1 Kings 1:34; Rev. 1:9-20; 9:13; 11:15-19).
- Trumpet means God is calling like a war cry, of impeding danger, and for us to pay attention (Ex. 19:16; Psalm 47:5-9; Isa. 31:4; 42:13; Amos 2:2).
- Caught up. This is a metaphor for meeting, as in catching up to the party with whom you are meeting. Heed this; an important emissary or king is coming such as one of the Caesars coming to join him and/or to escort Him, or He will escort those who show. Here it indicates that Christ has come, and His angels escort us as we meet Him. This does not mean to rise up in the air, although God can certainty do this if He chooses, but this is not what the text says. This is about the excitement and ecstasy of the event.
- Clouds. This means judgment is coming or hear and the end is here, time is up and the coming of the son of man from Daniel. This also means a spectacular event, such as numbers of angels testifying to God’s glory. It could also mean an extraordinary storm of clouds (Ezek. 30:3; 32:7; Joel 2:2; Dan. 7:13; Zech. 12:10; Matt. 16:28; 24:30-31, 34; 26:64; Rev. 1: 1-8).
- Meet the Lord in the air means two opposing armies who meet in the middle of a battlefield to discuss terms. Meeting in the air was also a way to say dignitaries are here (which was a great honor), from a city and are meeting with emissaries from another city to escort them to a meeting. Sometimes this meant meeting halfway, like diplomats or generals of opposing armies at a village as a neutral zone. This also meant gathering people to join and/or meet. Here, it is with Jesus when He comes back as a “royal coming” (Matt. 24:27-31; Acts 17:7). Rapture is the Latin rendering of the Greek word “harpazo.” The Latin rendering of “raptus” is where we get the word rapture. It is not from the Bible. This does not mean we get to fly up into the air; we may, but the passage and the others people use to support this theory in the contexts clearly states otherwise.
The object of this passage is Christ; He is coming is one of the themes of this Epistle, Matthew 24, and Revelation. This passage is basically announcing to us that Christ is coming back. This was comfort for the suffering Christians at that time, but chastisement for those who were evil and rejected Him (Deut. 33:2; Isa. 19:1; Zech. 1:16; Mal. 3:1-2; Matt. 10:23; Rev. 2:5; 3:20). Various first century Jewish groups saw that at the end of the age there will be a resurrection of the dead and a judgment, basically what Jesus taught too (1 Thess. 2:12; 5:3; Acts 17:7). The application can denote the assembled Church will come together to meet with Jesus physically or in some supernatural way that is yet undesignated.
In Mathew it is called, the Coming of the Son of Man! A spectacular rising into the air to meet Him! (Matt. 24:29-35). This passage is also used to show the belief that the entirety of true believers of Christ as Lord—the Church—will be suddenly taken up into the sky to meet Him in mid-air in the clouds. This is a fun theory and many people are so very dogmatic about it that fights occur as to when and how this will happen. Very few people actually look at the text to see what it really is saying.
Another passage that is used for this rapture is in Revelation 4:1-5: a trumpet said. This means God is preparing to give a command or the pronouncement of His Word (Ex. 19:16). Here, many misguided interpreters read into the text a “rapture,” and string together other passages out of context to create a grand theology out of injudicious reading and inserting ideas that are not in these passages at all, such as 1 Cor. 15:51-54.
This practice of using these texts and others for a Rapture is called “isagesis” which is inserting into the text something that is not there or a personal interpretation of a text from one’s own ideas. However, we are called to read His Word with “exegesis,” or a right explanation and analysis of the text from what it actually says. Also, in the Revelation 4:1-5 passage, the word “church” does not appear until Revelation chapter 22. Many think this means the church is not on earth during the last days. Again, this is reading into a text our ideas and not God’s. We are never to stretch or construe Scripture according to our whims and/or opinions. Rather, we are to plainly seek what He has for us from what He has clearly revealed to us.
This does not diminish the excitement and wonder when Christ does come back and we get to meet with Him. That will be far more excitement and hope than any convoluted theory could ever produce! The main point is this: we are called to join Him or be whisked away to judgment. We meet Christ on His terms to receive our rewards for being in Him and for those who reject Christ to receive judgment; it is simple as that. No elaborate esoteric theories are needed (Dan. 7:13; Matt. 24:31)!
Is there a “Secret Rapture?”
Some misguided Bible teachers have even been teaching there will be a secret rapture or a second rapture or mutable raptures. They claim each shout of the trumpet from relation is a new rapture. This is ridiculous, as a shout of a Trumpet means God is preparing to give a command or a pronouncement of His Word (Ex. 19:16). God’s way of making this spectacular and public then to be in secret misses God’s point and power. This will be very public; everyone will see the Coming of our Lord—both the dead and the alive, and that is no secret!