We live in turbulent times, and it is clear to see that things are likely not going to get better any time soon. The world seems to be spinning out of control and getting worse with each passing day. For those who follow Jesus Christ it could be said that things are actually falling into place, not spinning out of control. The hot topic in Christianity at the moment is the theory of the rapture of the church. I call it a theory because that is, indeed, what it is…just a theory. The Bible does NOT teach a rapture of the church anywhere in its pages and this article will lay out the evidence of this fact. It would be clear if more Christians would just read their Bible in context and not take church traditions as biblical doctrine.
This article will examine the theory of the rapture of the church in three parts; 1) The Origin of the Theory, 1 Thessalonians 4:1 – 5:11 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-58; 2) The Words of Jesus: Matthew 24 & 25 and Revelation 2-3; 3) The Words of Jesus: Revelation 6-14. This article is not exhaustive nor is it intended to be, it simply looks at the major evidence used as support for the rapture to show how these passages are taken out of context and truly do not support such a theory. It is not my intention that you believe me but by reading this article that you might be spurred on to do your own reading, studying and research and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you into the truth.
Origin of the Theory
The theory of the rapture of the church was popularized in 1830 by John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), a 19th century theologian. Darby believed he understood a new truth – an idea that had not been taught in the history of Christendom. The word rapture is not used anywhere in the Bible it comes from the Latin rapere meaning to seize or abduct. His basis, like many, centers on the 1 Thessalonians 4:17 passage that says believers are “caught up” to meet the Lord. “Caught up” is the Greek word harpazo meaning “to catch, pull or take by force.” This is a strong word in the Greek language, emphasizing that the action will be sudden and forceful. It conveys the forceful power of God by which He will resurrect those who had died. So, 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is speaking about the suddenness and the irresistible power of God – not an abduction. Below we will further unpack the 1 Thessalonians passage as we dig deeper into the theory of the rapture.
1 Thessalonians 4 & 1 Corinthians 15
In order to fully understand the context of 4:17 we must begin reading in 4:13 and continue through 5:11. This will provide the full picture of what Paul is talking about in the church at Thessalonica. A word of warning before we proceed, it is in the best interest for all Christians to ignore the divisions and titles added to your Bible. These were added many years after the Bible was written and most, if not all, are inaccurate. If at all possible, it is far better to copy, paste and print the passage you are studying without these divisions and titles. All Scripture used in this article are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB 1995) unless otherwise noted.
In verses 13 – 15 Paul begins to explain that those believers who have died will be resurrected just as Christ has been resurrected, even if those who are alive at the time remain alive until the return of Christ. “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15 (NASB)
Paul gives us additional clues as to the timing of this event in verses 16 – 18. In verse 16 Paul says the Lord Himself will descend with a shout and with the last trumpet of God.
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 (NASB)
The last trumpet of God refers to the trumpet judgments of Revelation 16. The blowing of the trumpet and the events that surround this event are described in chapter 11. It is not until chapter 16 that we find the details of the pouring out of God’s wrath upon the unrepentant and the return of Christ, nonetheless, it is the culmination of all the events of Revelation when the trumpet sounds just BEFORE the return of Jesus. Here the wrath of God is poured out upon the earth and those who remain UNREPENTANT. This is important to realize, the wrath of God only affects those who will not repent. Verse 2 tells us these are poured out on those who took the mark of the beast.
“So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth; and it became a loathsome and malignant sore *on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image.”
Revelation 16:2 (NASB)
Verses 9 & 11 tell us they refused to repent.
“Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not repent so as to give Him glory.” Revelation 16:9 (NASB)
“and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds.” Revelation 16:11 (NASB)
Believers who are alive during this time will be supernaturally protected from these plagues. Which brings us to an important point we MUST REMEMBER, Scripture interprets Scripture and if you have NOT seen anywhere else in Scripture it WILL NOT happen in the New Testament. God is not doing something new simply because we believe in His Son, Jesus Christ.
So, where have we seen this before? Where have we seen people being supernaturally protected? We have seen it while Israel was held captive in slavery in Egypt and God poured out the ten plagues upon Egypt and her false gods, recorded for us in Exodus 7:14 – 12:36. In each of the plagues sent by God, Israel was protected from the event. A picture of this for believers in found in Revelation 12: 1 – 17. The woman pictured in childbirth is a sign appearing in heaven to foretell what will take place on earth. The woman is a picture of Israel, and the child is of course Jesus; on earth the woman is the church, and the child or offspring are, of course, Christians.
Continuing in chapter 5 Paul warns that they need not be worried about the when, where and what time the return will happen. It is only those who live in darkness that will be taken unaware of the return of Christ. This is the promise of a resurrection – not a rapture.
“Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation.”
1 Thessalonians 5:1-8 (NASB)
Reading through this portion of the passage it is easy to see that we are fast approaching times that are described by Paul. We, indeed, are living in turbulent times and as we come out of those times, there are people now beginning to claim peace and safety. The coronavirus has made us all hyper aware of the dangers to and frailties of our human bodies. Fear has been the common theme among those who do not know Christ Jesus, and Paul’s encouragement applies very much to us today…we are sons and daughters of the light.
The final encouragement from Paul is a reminder that we are not destined for the wrath of God, as outlined above, it is only the unrepentant that face the wrath of God. Paul also reminds the church, and us, that whether we have died before His second coming or if we are alive to see His second coming, we will ALL live with Christ in eternity.
“For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.”
1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 (NASB)
These verses, when taken in context, make it clear that Paul is talking about a resurrection, not a rapture. This has been taught and promised throughout the Bible. It is not a new teaching, but a continuation of the teachings found elsewhere in the Bible, especially in Daniel. Let us continue to examine this theory by looking at the Corinthians passage so widely used in support of a rapture.
One final word on the 1 Thessalonians passage. Most people who use this as proof of the rapture place the emphasis on “caught up” but this is the wrong place to put the emphasis. The emphasis should be placed in the word “meet” for this word makes the passage clear. The word “meet” is the Greek word apantesis. In the New Testament this word is used “for the official welcome of a newly arrived dignitary” or a “newly appointed magistrate.” The return of Christ is announced with the loud voice of an angel and the seventh trumpet is sounded. At this point believers are harvested to form the welcoming committee for Jesus Christ. We, the saints who are alive at His return, form the welcoming committee for the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
1 Corinthians 15
In 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 Paul also provides additional evidence as to the timing of these events. Here Paul makes it clear that not all will die, some will remain until Christ returns. For those who are resurrected they will have been changed but those who remain will still have their earthly bodies. These must change and the change will happen in the “twinkling of an eye.” When does this change happen? Again, Paul tells us at the last trumpet!
“Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”
1 Corinthians 15:50-52 (NASB)
Then our corruptible body’s will become uncorruptible and our mortality must be changed to immortality. This change is what will allow believers to meet Christ in the air. Further proof is added in verse 54-55. Here death is swallowed up in the return of Christ.
“For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 15:53-58 (NASB)
Where do we see this? In the Book of Revelation.
In Revelation 14:14-20 we see the final harvest of the earth. The first harvest are any believers remaining on earth and the second harvest represents the grapes poured out in the wrath of God. Chapter 15 provides a prelude to the seven trumpets, a description of the events in heaven as they are prepared. Chapter 16 provides the details of the pouring out of God’s wrath. I have already noted that those affected are those who have taken the mark of the beast and will not repent of their sins. Notice also that the earth is being affected as well. The seas became blood, the springs of water become blood, the sun produces fierce heat, the throne of Satan is sent into darkness and the Euphrates is dried up.
Chapters 17 & 18 are the details of the destruction that is about to come upon Babylon, the false religious system that has lured many into worship of the beast and antichrist. In the first three verses of chapter 17 john tells us one of the angels who had one of the seven bowls talks to him and takes him away to see the destruction of Babylon, the Harlot who sits on the beast. For John this is but a moment in time for we are in chapter 19 as the final trumpet blast is heard and the believers are now called up to Christ for we hear the angels and we are told the church, called the bride here, is told to make herself ready, given fine linen, white and fresh. This all happens right before the second coming of Christ in verse 11 of chapter 19. The voices that are heard in verses 6-7 is the church from throughout history finally assembled as the Bride of Christ. Those who follow Christ can only be those believers who survived the Tribulation period. This can be seen through verse 4 in chapter 20 where believing saints are brought back to life.
Enoch, Elijah & Philip
Many point to three examples as proof of the rapture. Two are from the Old Testament and one from The New Testament. The first example is Enoch being taken by God. Scripture is very unclear and very short in this example stating only that “Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.” Genesis 5:24 (NASB). However, knowing that the Old Testament points to Jesus in the New Testament, this is not a rapture but an ascension that will be seen in Christ. For Christ walked with God and then God took Him in the clouds (Acts 1:9).
The second example is Elijah when he is taken in the chariot in the sight of Elisha (read it below). Here Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Elijah says that if Elisha sees him go it will be so, if not then it will not be, As the two walk along the chariot splits between them, Elijah’s mantle falls to the ground to be picked up and worn by Elisha and he has the spirit of Elijah. This is the passing of the mantle from Elijah to Elisha in a picture of the ascension of Christ and the passing of the mantle of the gospel to the disciples.
The world of Elijah could ill afford to lose him – through his council, reproof and prayers, Elijah kept off the judgment of God. Christ gave the disciples the gospel, the token of divine power to overturn the empire of Satan and set up the kingdom of God in the world; this has also been passed on to believers today. Remember what is seen in the Old Testament is a foreshadowing of the New Testament, generally fulfilled in Christ Jesus.
“And it came about when the LORD was about to take up Elijah by a whirlwind to heaven, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here please, for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the LORD lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. Then the sons of the prophets who were at Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that the LORD will take away your master from over you today?” And he said, “Yes, I know; be still.” Elijah said to him, “Elisha, please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. The sons of the prophets who were at Jericho approached Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that the LORD will take away your master from over you today?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be still.” Then Elijah said to him, “Please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.” And he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on.”
“Now fifty men of the sons of the prophets went and stood opposite them at a distance, while the two of them stood by the Jordan. Elijah took his mantle and folded it together and struck the waters, and they were divided here and there, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground. When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.” He said, “You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.” As they were going along and talking, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven. Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw Elijah no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. He also took up the mantle of Elijah that fell from him and returned and stood by the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him and struck the waters and said, “Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” And when he also had struck the waters, they were divided here and there; and Elisha crossed over.”
2 Kings 2:1-14 (NASB)
The final example is Philip, in the New Testament, when he encounters an Ethiopian eunuch reading in the book of Isaiah. After explaining the passage, he had been reading and baptizing the eunuch, Philip is taken away by God (Acts 8:26-40). The problem here is Philip is not taken FROM the earth but to another location ON the earth. This has nothing to do with the rapture theory of the church. This is showing the power of the Holy Spirit for the Greek word indicates the ability to snatch away quickly and immediately.
The same Spirit that prompted Philip to join the chariot now removes Philip in the same manner. The Spirit strongly admonished Philip to go to some other place; that he so forcibly or vividly suggested the duty to his mind, as to tear him away, as it were, from the society of the eunuch. The strong convictions of duty, urged by the Holy Spirit, impelled him, as it were, to break off this new and interesting acquaintanceship, and to go to some other place. The purpose for which he was sent, to instruct and baptize the eunuch, was accomplished, and now he was called to some other field of labor.
End Part I – Coming Soon Part II: The Words of Jesus – Matthew 24-25 & Revelation 2-3