When reading my first article concerning the topic of the ‘rapture’, one might find that they were somewhat confused. For starters, my article does not line up with the prevalent teaching of many current theologians. But, and I humbly say this, I have tried to get down to Biblical teaching by understanding the language, culture and history of Scripture and its writers. Many can formulate beliefs based upon what seems to them as plain teaching of black ink on white paper, but that is not always helpful in studying the Scripture considering we live in a completely different time and culture, and speak a completely different language.
Many people, including dispensationalists, see the rapture as an event where Christ comes to take His Church off of the earth to spend a seven-year period in heaven (up in the clouds) while God pours out judgment on the earth. At the same time, those who hold to this more dispensationalist view seem to actually teach that there are two returns of Christ rather than one. Or, they might now term it as one event divided into two distinct phases. Firstly, there is the return of Christ to take away His Church to heaven, called the rapture. Then, there is the final return of Christ in which He will come to rule ‘with all His saints’ (1 Thessalonians 3:13).
But, the question arises – Is there two returns of Christ, or a final coming to be split into two events/phases, or is it only one event?
For some, the next portion of this article will be deemed boring, but I want to take a look at three Greek words found in the New Testament to help determine the answer to the above question. Those three Greek words are parousia, apokalupsis and epiphaneia.
The word parousia simply means ‘presence’ or ‘a coming to a place’. The word is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:15:
‘For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.’
Dispensationalists generally see this verse as speaking of the rapture – that time when Christ will come to take His Church from the earth, rescuing them from the wrath of God that is to come during the ‘great tribulation’. The same word, parousia, is also found in 1 Thessalonians 3:13:
‘…so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.’
Oddly enough, those in the dispensational camp see this as speaking of Christ’s final and ultimate return. But what is interesting to note is that Paul uses the same Greek word in both verses – parousia. Paul was not trying to distinguish between two events – a rapture and a final coming. He spoke of only one event. For when Christ comes for His saints (1 Thessalonians 4:15), He will also come with His saints (1 Thessalonians 3:13).
As I shared in the first post, there is an important phrase found in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 – ‘to meet’. This comes from the Greek phrase eis apantēsis. The phrase can be defined as this: to leave a place in order to go and meet one who is coming toward you. I spoke of how the phrase was used in Biblical times to speak of nobles of a city going out to meet an important dignitary who was coming to visit their city in order to escort him back to the city. Thus, knowing the background of this Greek phrase, Paul used it in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 to explain how Christ will come for His Bride, we will meet our Bridegroom in the air, and then we will escort Him back to earth (the place He was coming to already). Hence, you have the reality of Christ coming for His saints and with His saints at the same time.
The second Greek word to notice in the New Testament in regards to Christ’s return is apokalupsis. The word means ‘revelation’ or ‘uncovering’. This is actually the Greek title for the book of Revelation. The word can be found in 2 Thessaolonians 1:7:
As with the word parousia, dispensationalists typically use this verse to describe the rapture. But they then go on to use a verse like 1 Corinthians 1:7 to refer to Christ’s final return:
‘…so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.’
But, again, the same word is being used in both occasions – apokalupsis. Paul was not teaching that there are two separate events to come. He saw one event, one apokalupsis (revelation) of Christ in the end.
Finally, though this will seem redundant, the last word to look at is the Greek word epiphaneia. The word simply means ‘appearing’. This is where we get our word epiphany. This Greek word can be found in Titus 2:11-13:
‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.’
More times than not, dispensationalists see this as a reference to the rapture. But, though the same word, epiphaneia, is used in 2 Timothy 4:1, they believe it refers to Christ’s great and final appearance.
‘I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom.’
Because most dispensationalists see the kingdom of God as something to be set up in a future millennial reign, it would make sense that this Scripture, for them, refers to Christ’s final return. And it does. But it is not a separate appearing (epiphaneia) from a previous appearing called the rapture. Paul used the same word in both instances. He never saw Christ’s return divided into two phases. He knew that there would be only one final return of Christ, and one alone. There was to be one final epiphaneia.
Consequently, where many might speak of two parousia’s, two apokalupsis’s, and two epiphaneia’s, Scripture refers to a one-time event. There are not two returns of Christ, nor even one final coming split in two segments. It is all one and the same event. When Christ returns, it will be in His full glory and power. As He is returning, He will call His saints up to meet Him, and they will then escort Him back to the earth where He will fully establish God’s kingdom in righteousness and peace, all the while dealing in judgment with all sin and unrighteousness.
So, let us look forward to that day – that day of rapture, that day of His final return – when our Beloved Savior will return for His Bride!