Rapture of the Church?

The doctrine of the ‘Rapture’ is an interpretation of Paul’s description in 1 Thessalonians of both resurrected saints and those believers still alive at the time “meeting Jesus in the air” as he descends from Heaven. According to this view, the church is physically removed from the Earth and transported to Heaven by the Lord, presumably to a nonphysical and timeless reality outside the space-time continuum.

Discussions about this doctrine usually revolve around the question of when the ‘Rapture’ will occur; before the “Great Tribulation,” at its midpoint or end. But this question misses a fundamental point. Nowhere does the New Testament even mention a ‘Rapture’ at all, or at least, not by that term if we mean by it the removal of believers collectively from the Earth.

Cemetery sunny - Photo by S Turby on Unsplash
[Photo by S Turby on Unsplash]

This interpretation is dependent almost entirely on a particular reading of the passage in Paul's first epistle to the Assembly in Thessalonica. To find the ‘Rapture’ in that passage, one must make several assumptions that are then read into the text - (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

First is the idea that as Jesus descends from Heaven, he suddenly reverses course and returns to his starting point with his people in tow, something the passage never describes. It only ends with the statement, “and so will we be with the Lord forevermore.”

The passage never states where this happy condition will take place except for, “In the air.” This conclusion can just as easily fit a scenario where the saints accompany Jesus as he continues his descent to the Earth.

Second, the Pre-Tribulation ‘Rapture’ view sees the passage as evidence that this is a “coming” of Jesus distinct from his arrival to judge the wicked. It becomes necessary to assume that more time is needed for additional events on the Earth following the ‘Rapture,’ including the seven-year Tribulation, the judgment, and the thousand-year Millennium. Therefore, there must be more than one “coming” of the Lord.

Third, since the passage makes no mention of the final judgment, it is assumed that it will occur at a different time after another “coming” of Jesus. This line of reasoning is little more than an argument from silence.

Other passages refer to the judgment of the wicked and the righteous when he “arrives” from Heaven to gather his elect. Is it not more plausible to conclude that these several passages all describe specific aspects of the SINGLE future “coming” of Jesus? – (e.g., Matthew 24:31, 25:31-46, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, 2:1-12).

Moreover, this line of reasoning ignores the larger context of Paul’s two surviving letters to the Thessalonians. In the very next chapter, he warns that the unprepared will be overtaken by the events of this very same day - “Like a thief in the night.”

Paul labels this event the “Day of the Lord,” which elsewhere is associated with God’s judicial punishment of the wicked. In his second letter to the Thessalonians, he declares that the day Jesus is “revealed from heaven” will mean vindication for the righteous but everlasting destruction for the wicked. Both events occur at the same time - (1 Thessalonians 8:1-9, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10).

A further problem is the consistent picture found elsewhere in the New Testament. Jesus is always “coming” to the Earth. Nowhere is he depicted as departing from it and returning to Heaven.

Furthermore, the New Testament always refers to ONE future “coming” of Jesus, never two or more. Nowhere is the plural form of the noun or verb applied to his future arrival whether the term is “coming,” “arrival,” “revelation,” or “appearance.”

When any direction is provided by the relevant passages, the Lord is always coming “from Heaven” and descending to the Earth - (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).

No single passage covers every aspect of his “coming,” but between the related passages, consistent features emerge.

Country Lakes - Photo by Raphael Andres on Unsplash
[Photo by Raphael Andres on Unsplash]

FINAL EVENTS


The most comprehensive list of the things that will occur when Jesus arrives is provided in First Corinthians. His “arrival” 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 - (1 Corinthians 15:20-28).

His return will result in the separation of the righteous from the unrighteous. It will mean joy to the prepared but disaster to the unprepared - (Matthew 13:30. 25:13, 25:31-46, Luke 12:33-39, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6).

His “revelation” from Heaven will mean the vindication of his people but “everlasting punishment” for those who persecuted them. At his “arrival,” the “Man of Lawlessness” will be destroyed, and the old order will cease as the “New Heavens and the New Earth” commence - (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, 2:8-10, 2 Peter 3:10-12).

This sequence of events rings with great finality. Death will cease, and the New Creation will appear in all its glory. Resurrected believers will be with the Lord “forevermore,” but the unrighteous will receive “everlasting” separation from his presence - (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, 2 Thessalonians 2:5-10).

The disciple’s hope is not found in removal from the creation but in the raising of the dead and the New Creation. The Gospel is about redemption, not abandonment - (e.g., John 5:29, Romans 6:5, 8:19-25, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, Philippians 3:10, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

In short, not only does Scripture not mention the ‘Rapture’ by name, but this interpretation is also incompatible with the biblical hope of redemption, and that hope includes the bodily resurrection of believers and the “New Heavens and the New Earth.”



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