Well, I actually do believe in the rapture. But not in the particular version that we find espoused by many Christians. The version known as a pre-tribulational rapture where God takes all Christians to heaven while there is a 7-year period of great tribulation on the earth, then followed by a millennial reign of Christ.
I don’t believe this version holds water under scrutiny, at least the scrutiny of what Scripture teaches.
For starters, the oft-used word, rapture, never actually appears in our English translations of Scripture. Our versions use the phrase ‘caught up’ found in 1 Thess 4:17. The word, rapture, is derived from the Latin translation of the Bible (known as the Vulgate).
In getting our heads around the concept of the rapture, the best place to start would be 1 Thess 4:13-18.
13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven,with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Oddly enough, in this little excerpt, Paul ends by stating: ‘Therefore encourage one another with these words.’ Unfortunately, for many, the rapture doesn’t come across as encouraging. Rather some bring forth scare tactics. But this is the exact opposite of how the words are being utilised by Paul.
So back to vs17 and the little phrase ‘caught up’. This comes from a extremely long Greek word: harpagēsometha. And the root of this word is harpazo, which carries the idea of a known stealing. This contrasts with the Greek word klepto, which means to steal secretly.
Now, why the lesson in Greek here? Well, for many, the rapture is thought of as a secret event. Once the church gets raptured away and taken out of the earth, the rest of humanity are left looking around and wondering what just happened. But, at least according to the way the Greek is communicated, this is going to be an event in which all people know what has taken place. Christ will return for his Bride and all will know.
The second important phrase in vs17 is ‘to meet’. So on to another Greek lesson.
This phrase comes from the Greek eis apantēsis. Now, all Christians believe in this ‘meeting in the air’ with our Lord. The question is: What do we believe about it?
The phrase eis apantēsis means this: to leave a place in order to go and meet one who is coming toward you. The idea comes from an ancient practice: nobles of a city would go out to meet an important dignitary coming to visit their city, all in order to escort them back to the city.
Do you see the ramifications here?
This oft-discussed passage tells us this: a) Christ will be coming for his Bride, b) we will go to meet the Bridegroom in the air and then c) we will escort him back to earth (the place he was coming towards already). It’s like a cosmic U-turn – for us, not Christ, as we head back to this good and renewed earth.
Then, in continuing a kind of eschatological layout, this meeting in the air and journey back would lead to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 17:7-9), with us dwelling forever in the new heaven and new earth (Rev 21-22).
A final point to note about the rapture. To underline this popular teaching about the rapture, people will also look to a passage of support in Matthew’s Gospel. Read these intriguing words:
As it was in the days of Noah,so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. (24:37-43)
However, if we read this passage carefully, we see that it isn’t teaching that the people of God will be taken out of the earth.
To what does Jesus compare this event? He taught that it would be like the days of Noah – two men will be in the field, one will be taken and one left; two women will be grinding at the mill, one will be taken and one left.
Again, remember what happened in Noah’s day? Who was left and who was taken away? It was the righteous who were left on earth (Noah and his family) and it was the unrighteous who were taken out of the earth in judgment. Noah and his family were left to inherit a kind of new heavens and new earth. Thus, a prototype for the end of the age.
It’s never been God’s plan to remove his people from earth, but rather to see his kingdom rule on the earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6:10). God’s heart is to see heaven completely invade earth, bringing his right-ways, peace and rule to all he has created. All the while, he will have dealt with all unrighteousness and sin.
And remember the well-known words of Jesus: ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth’ (Matt 5:5). It is the new Jerusalem, the Bride of Christ, who comes to inherit a new heaven and new earth (Rev 21:1-3).
God’s strategy is to restore and redeem the cosmos. And now it groans awaiting such liberation (Rom 8:21). It will be the final ‘new creation,’ in which we already participate.
This is where we are headed – not evacuation, but embracing a new heaven and new earth. And we can begin now by celebrating God’s good creation, taking care of it and preparing for that day when all things are made new.