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21 August 2019

What Rapture?

SYNOPSISThe “Rapture” is an interpretation of passages that originally concerned the future resurrection of the dead. The term is not found in the New Testament.

Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash
Jason Blackeye -
Discussions of the “rapture” 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). But the question misses the point – Nowhere does the New Testament even mention a future “rapture.” 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 and timeless reality, whether as resurrected saints or disembodied spirits. This doctrine depends on its interpretation of a single passage found in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; however, to find the doctrine of the “rapture” in it, proponents must make several assumptions.

 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 will take place. The verse can just as easily fit the 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; however, this amounts to nothing more than an argument from silence.

Third, this last line of reasoning ignores the larger context of Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians. In the very next chapter, he warns that the unprepared will be overtaken by this very same day, “like a thief in the night.” Paul labels it the “day of the Lord,” an event elsewhere closely associated with God’s judicial punishment of the wicked. And in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, the day Jesus is revealed from heaven will mean vindication to the righteous but everlasting destruction to the wicked.

A further problem is the consistent picture of Christ’s “coming” that is painted by the New Testament. Jesus is always said to be “coming,” not “going”; returning, not 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 16:27Matthew 24:30Matthew 25:31Matthew 26:64Acts 1:112 Thessalonians 1:7Revelation 1:71 Corinthians 15:231 Thessalonians 1:101 Thessalonians 4:16).
Every passage without exception that refers to the future coming of Jesus is always in the singular. That is, one and only one “coming” or “revelation” of Jesus is mentioned, never two (or more). No single passage covers every aspect of the “coming” of Jesus but, viewed as a whole, certain consistent aspects emerge.
The most comprehensive list is provided by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28. The “coming” or parousia of the Lord will include the resurrection of the dead, the cessation of death (the “last enemy”), the subjugation of all hostile powers, the consummation of the kingdom, and the transformation of saints still alive from mortality to immortality.

That event results in the separation of the righteous from the unrighteous. That day will mean joy to the prepared but disaster to 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).

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 coming 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 1:5-102:8-102 Peter 3:10-12).

Related to the sequence of events to occur ON THAT DAY is their finality. Death will cease from that time. The old order will disappear to be replaced by the New Creation. Resurrected believers will be with the Lord “forevermore” after that day. 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 both still occur, however rare.

Christian hope is not found in escape from the created order or transportation to an invisible, timeless, and immaterial realm, but in the bodily resurrection and 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 that of 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 new creation. The coming or parousia of Jesus means nothing less than a new heaven and new earth (Romans 8:19-252 Peter 3:10).

At the end of the book, 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 found on the pages of the New Testament.

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