The Rapture Terminology

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.

Parousia
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.

Apokalupsis
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:

‘…and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels.’

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.

Epiphaneia
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!

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The Rapture Unraveled

The ‘rapture’ is probably one of the most discussed topics in all of Christianity today. For some, they cannot stop talking about it. For others, they are tired of hearing about it. But what is the rapture? What is this whole thing all about?

For starters, the word never actually appears in our English translations of Scripture. Our versions use the phrase ‘caught up’ found in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The word, rapture, is in fact derived from the Latin translation of the Bible (known as the Vulgate).

In getting our heads around the rapture, the best place to start would be 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 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. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Oddly enough, in this section, Paul’s words end as, ‘Therefore encourage one another with these words.’ Unfortunately, when most people talk about the rapture, they don’t refer to it with encouraging words. They actually use this passage to scare people and it becomes very unhelpful, not to mention the verses are then used in the exact opposite way Paul intended.

Again, if we read verse 17, we find the little phrase ‘caught up’. This is translated from the Greek word harpagēsometha (the NT was written in Greek, so that is why it would be important to know such language background). At the root of this long Greek word, harpagēsometha, is the Greek word 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, when many people teach on the subject of the rapture, they usually speak of it as a secret event. Once the Church gets raptured away and taken out of the earth, the rest of humanity will look around and wonder what just happened. But, according to the New Testament Greek, this is going to be an event in which all people will know what took place. Christ will be returning for His Bride and He will make sure all know of the event.

The second important phrase in verse 17 is ‘to meet’. This comes from the Greek phrase 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. It is similar to the practice in that day when nobles of a city would go out to meet an important dignitary coming to visit their city in order to escort him back to the city. Thus, it seems this passage in 1 Thessalonians 4 is teaching that Christ will be coming for His Bride, we will go meet our Bridegroom in the air, and then we will escort Him back to earth (the place He was coming to already). Then we will be married to Him and live forever amongst a new heaven and new earth.

Many people use this passage in 1 Thessalonians to speak as if Christ is going to take us, His Church, out of the earth during a seven-year tribulation period. And to back up this teaching, they look to Matthew’s Gospel to find support:

For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then 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. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. (24:37-43)

But if we read this passage carefully, we will realize that it is not teaching that we are going to be taken out of the earth. Jesus 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. Many see this as referring to a rapture of the Church out of the earth.

Yet, 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 earth and new heaven. Thus, a prototype for the end of the age.

You see, it is not God’s plan to take His people out of the earth, but it is His plan to bring His kingdom rule to the earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). God’s heart is to see heaven completely invade earth one day bringing righteous, peace and His rule to all that He created. All the while, He will have dealt with and judged all unrighteousness and sin.

This is why Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth’ (Matthew 5:5). And that is why it is the New Jerusalem, the Bride of Christ, who comes to inherit a new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1-3).

God’s plan is not to ultimately get us out of the earth. But, as He has made His people new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), He also longs to restore and redeem the physical earth to make it even better than it was in the beginning (Romans 8:21). It will be the final ‘new creation’. His purpose is to dwell with us forever on the new earth as He brings the fullness of His kingdom at the return of Christ.

This is not some weird teaching of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but this is getting back to the truth of what Scripture teaches. We are looking to develop our theology based upon Scripture. So let us not look to abandon the earth, for God has a great purpose to redeem and restore it to its original intention. And we will be able to enjoy it for all eternity!

Click here to read more on the topic of the rapture.

Click here to learn about the broader topic of eschatology.

The Roots of Dispensational Theology Continued

Continuing on from our look at the roots of dispensational theology: After formulating the five initial beliefs we looked at previously, John Nelson Darby left the Church of Ireland to help start the Plymouth Brethren church. A man by the name of John Inglis (1813-1879) is seen by many as the first to introduce the teaching in America. But one of the major contributors in America for dispensationalism was Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921). C.I. Scofield could probably be seen as the father of formulating the precise system of dispensational theology. In the 1880’s, Scofield would become a church leader in the Congregational church.

Scofield saw that God dealt with the world through ‘dispensations’. A dispensation is defined as ‘a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God.’ In more simple words, God gives a certain responsibility to humanity, they have failed (and always will fail) with that responsibility, and therefore, God has to bring judgment on that group of people. Then, following the judgment, God begins with a new dispensation. For example, God had given a responsibility to Adam and Eve in the garden (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:16-17), they failed (Genesis 3:6-7), and so God came with judgment (Genesis 3:14-19). But, after the Fall, God gave a new dispensation. Scofield saw seven main dispensations in Scripture, though some dispensational theologians hold to three or eleven.

These are the seven dispensations which Scofield saw:

  1. Age of Innocence: Creation until the Fall
  2. Age of Conscience: The Fall until the Flood
  3. Age of Human Government: Noah until the Tower of Babel
  4. Age of Promise: Abraham until Mt. Sinai
  5. Age of Law: Moses until John the Baptist
  6. Age of Grace: Christ until the Millennium (Church age)
  7. Age of the Kingdom: the Millennium until the ‘age to come’

As stated above, each new test, or dispensation, ends in failure and judgment. Some would point out that this understanding has a negative focus on humanity and the continual failure of man. But dispensationalists say this focuses on and highlights God’s great salvation.

Scofield saw the Church as a parenthesis in God’s plan. This was to be a time for mainly the Gentiles to be included in God’s purpose of salvation. Jesus wanted to set up God’s kingdom on earth with Israel the first time He came, but the Jews rejected Him. So, God pushed the ‘pause button’ on Israel in order to do something with the Gentiles. When Christ returns the second time, He will establish His kingdom with Israel physically on earth in Jerusalem.

Scofield also added the idea of a pretribulational rapture. This would be a secret catching away that would take place before the millennium and before the ‘great tribulation’.

A lot of these teachings were not orthodox until some 150 years ago. But by 1950, this was the predominant view of the Church in the western world. There are four main reasons why dispensationalism became big in the western world:

  1. The rise of liberalism. In western Europe and America, there were people teaching that the Bible was not the authoritative and inerrant word of God, and they were even looking to take out specific texts in the Bible such as the miracles. So covenant theologians saw a greater enemy with liberalism. Dispensationalists were rooted in the fundamental belief that the Bible was the word of God. So these two sides joined forces to combat against rising liberalism.
  2. Dispensationalists created platforms for what they believed. They started conferences and Bible institutes to teach the tenants of dispensational theology. Scofield created the Scofield Study Bible with his own notes added at the bottom. He was the first to publish a study Bible in 1909.
  3. Evangelists and revivalists such as Moody and Finney began to preach that Jesus could return at any moment, in the blink of an eye. People were, thus, getting saved into dispensational thinking.
  4. Wars: World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War all took place in about a fifty-year span. To many, it did not seem like the world was getting better (which postmillennialists and some amillennialists held to), but rather worse (lining up more with a dispensational understanding.

In all of this, here are four summary beliefs for dispensational theology:

  1. Belief in a strong literal interpretation of Scripture. They do admit to some figurative interpretation, but it is very easy to see that the Scripture is meant figuratively. In general, look as much as possible for a literal interpretation of prophetic Scriptures. If it says in Scripture that the moon will turn blood red, then it will turn to blood red. Therefore, anybody can read the Bible and know exactly what it is saying. Also, Biblical prophecy is mainly tied to fulfillment on earth.
  2. Developed the belief that God had two peoples – Israel and the Church. Therefore, there is a double-method with interpreting Scripture. Israel is God’s earthly people and the promises spoken to them in the Scriptures were to be literally fulfilled on earth. The Church is God’s spiritual people and the promises spoken to them in the Scriptures were symbolic and they were to be spiritually fulfilled in heaven.
  3. The Church is a parenthesis, an aside, in God’s plan. Thus, the purpose of God in the New Testament is different from His purpose in the Old Testament. In this, they also saw quite a distinction between Law (for the Old Testament) and grace (for the New Testament).
  4. Very strong premillenial belief (Christ returning before the millennial reign), also seeing a pretribulational secret rapture (Christ taking the Church out of the world before the ‘great tribulation’), as well as an imminent end of the world.

Some dispensationalists have recently reformed their theology, which they call progressive dispensationalism. In the next blog, we will take a look at the specific beliefs of those in the school of covenant theology.