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21 August 2019

Rapture or Resurrection?

SYNOPSIS - The “Rapture” is an interpretation of a passage that is about the resurrection of dead believers - The term is not found in the New Testament.

Clouds - Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash
Jason Blackeye on Unsplash
Discussions on the doctrine of the “Rapture” tend to center on the issue of when it will occur - Before the Tribulation, at its midpoint, or at its end (the Pre-, Mid- and Post-tribulation positions, respectively). But the question misses the point – Nowhere does the New Testament even mention a future “Rapture," at least not with that term. By “rapture” is meant the removal of Christians from the earth and their transportation to heaven.

As with the term, the New Testament never describes a day when believers are removed from the earth and transported to any nonphysical, invisible and timeless reality, whether as resurrected saints or disembodied spirits. This doctrine is dependent on an interpretation of a single passage found in Paul's letter to the Thessalonians. However, to find this doctrine in it, "Rapture" proponents must make several assumptions about it (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

First, that after meeting the saints “in the air” as he descends from heaven, Jesus pulls a U-turn and heads back to heaven with his saints in tow, something the passage never says. It ends only with the statement - “And so will we be with the Lord forevermore.” It never states where this takes place, other than "in the air." The verse can just as easily fit a scenario in which the saints accompany Jesus as he continues his descent to the earth.

Second, the pre-tribulation position sees the passage as evidence that this is a separate “coming” of Jesus from his arrival in glory at the end of the age. This is assumed because it says nothing about the judgment of the wicked. But this is nothing more than an argument from silence.

Cyclone - Photo by Espen Bierud on Unsplash
by Espen Bierud on Unsplash
Third, the preceding argument ignores the larger context of Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians. In the very next chapter, he warned that the unprepared would be overtaken by the events of this very same day - “Like a thief in the night.” Paul labeled it the “Day of the Lord,” an event elsewhere associated with God’s judicial punishment of the wicked. And in his second letter, he declared that the day Jesus is "revealed from heaven" will mean the vindication of the righteous but the everlasting destruction of the wicked (1 Thessalonians 8:1-9, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10).

A further obstacle is the consistent picture of the “coming” of Jesus elsewhere in the New Testament. He is always said to be “coming,” NOT “going” - ReturningNOT Departing. When any direction is provided, he is coming “from heaven” and descending to the earth. This holds true when different Greek verbs are used for his coming (Matthew 16:27, Matthew 24:30, Matthew 25:31, Matthew 26:64, Acts 1:11, 2 Thessalonians 1:7, Revelation 1:7, 1 Corinthians 15:23, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 4:16).

Without exception, in every New Testament passage that refers to the return of Jesus, the event is always in the singular. That is, one and only one coming of Jesus is mentioned, never two (or more). No single passage covers every aspect of the “coming” of Jesus but, viewed as a whole, consistent features of that day emerge.

The most comprehensive list of things to occur when Jesus arrives is provided by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians. The “coming” or parousia of the Lord will include the resurrection of the dead, the cessation of death (the “last enemy”), the final subjugation of all hostile powers, the consummation of the kingdom, and the transformation of the saints still alive from mortality to immortality. His return means the overthrow of the Last Enemy, Death- (1 Corinthians 15:20-28).

That event will result in the separation of the righteous from the unrighteous. The Day will mean joy for the prepared but disaster for the unprepared. The latter will be overwhelmed by it like a “thief in the night” (Matthew 13:30. 25:13, 25:31-46, Luke 12:33-39, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6).

Church graveyard - Photo by Jamie Haughton on Unsplash
by Jamie Haughton on Unsplash
The “revelation” of the Lord from heaven will mean vindication and glory for his people, but also “everlasting punishment” for the unrighteous that persecuted them. At the “coming” or parousia of Jesus, the “man of lawlessness” will be destroyed by the Lord. The Day of the Lord will produce the end of the old created order and the inauguration of the new heavens and the new earth (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, 2:8-10, 2 Peter 3:10-12).

Related to the sequence of events that will occur ON THAT DAY is their finality. Death will cease from that time forward. The old order will disappear to be replaced by the New Creation. Resurrected believers will be with the Lord “forevermore.” The unrighteous will receive “everlasting” punishment and separation from the presence of the Lord; that day will mean “wrath” for the wicked (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, 2 Thessalonians 2:5-10).
The finality of that day leaves no room for several other popular interpretations, especially a Millennium in which death and sin continue to occur, however rare.
Christian hope is not found in escape from the created order or transportation to an invisible, timeless, or immaterial realm, but in the bodily resurrection and the New Creation. The gospel is about redemption, not abandonment, and this includes the bodily resurrection of the righteous dead (e.g., John 5:29, Romans 6:5, 8:19-25, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, Philippians 3:10, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Directly related to the concept of bodily resurrection is the New Creation. Even now, the entire created order is groaning in anticipation of the resurrection of the sons of God. That day will mean nothing less than a newly created order - The coming or parousia of Jesus results in a New Heaven and a New Earth (Romans 8:19-25, 2 Peter 3:10).

At the end of the book of Revelation, New Jerusalem DESCENDS from heaven to the new earth. The saints do not ascend to it - It comes down to them. In this city, the redeemed live forever in the presence of God and the Lamb, free from all sorrow and suffering (Revelation 21:1–22:5).

In short, not only does Scripture never mention a “Rapture,” this popular idea is incompatible with the biblical hope of Resurrection and New Creation found on the pages of the New Testament.

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