In today's post I want to introduce readers to an important truth that is part of the "study of last things" or "eschatology". This important truth, known as "The Rapture of the Church", is the next major prophetic event that will involve a mass miracle performed by the Lord Jesus when He comes for His Church.
A summary of the rapture.
In offering a definition of "the rapture", we could say the following:
The rapture is a predicted event, of unknown date, in which Jesus will appear in the clouds to resurrect dead Christians and transform the bodies of living Christians to catch them up to Himself.
So why this strange term "rapture"? Theologian Wayne Grudem notes that the term “rapture” comes from a Latin term “rapio”, which is used in the Latin Vulgate’s translation of the phrase "will be caught up" 1 Thessalonians 4:17. As with most theological terms, the term derives from the Latin due to Latin's influence upon the work of theology. In 1 Thessalonians 4:17, Paul writes the following words:
“Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”
The rapture of the church, then, is when the Lord Jesus will appear in the clouds to "catch away" or "take-up", in resurrection, all Christians who deceased, and to "catch away" or "take up" in transformed bodies those Christians who are currently alive.
Jesus was the first one to mention this important doctrine in the Bible. In John 14:1-3, He speaks the following words to His disciples:
“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also."
Although Jesus used a different verb than the one we find in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, the idea of receiving those who trust in Him as Savior unto Himself conveys this blessed truth known as "The Rapture of the Church".
Basic outline of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and its teaching on the rapture.
We could turn to several New Testament passages that teach on this doctrine, however we will confine ourselves to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, since it gives a wonderful summary of the Lord's return for His church.
1. Comfort from the rapture. 1 Thessalonians 4:13,18
The key feature of the doctrine of the rapture of the church is the comfort it conveys to the Christian. Paul writes these words in 1 Thessalonians 4:13
"But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope."
As Paul begins this section, he ends with the same tone of comfort in 1 Thessalonians 4:18 - "Therefore comfort one another with these words."
What is remarkable to consider about other New Testament texts that teach on the rapture is how often they refer to some sort of comfort afforded by the doctrine. Note the following passages of the Scripture.
A. Comfort in loss.
We read Jesus' words to His disciples on the eve of His crucifixion in John 14:1-3
B. Comfort when laboring for the Lord.
1 Corinthians 15:58 reminds us that our labor is not in vain in the Lord.
C. Comfort for daily living.
Paul writes in Philippians 3:20-4:1
We are living in a world that is riddled with fear and anxiety. It is my understanding that there are over 500 categories of fear or phobias. If anything else, one of the chief fruits of consistent preaching and exposure to Biblical teaching of the rapture is the immeasurable comfort it offers.
2. Certainty of the rapture. 1 Thessalonians 4:14
Paul then writes next in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus." Why mention Christ's death and resurrection? The certainty of His death and resurrection as historical events and spiritually grounding events are taught in the New Testament.
"Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures."
So much is staked on what Christ achieved that Paul later writes in 1 Corinthians 15:19-20
"If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. 20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep."
What Paul's point is in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 is this, just as certain as it is that Jesus Christ died on the cross and raised from the dead, so too is that same level of certainty in His soon return for His Church in the rapture.
3. Quick coming of the rapture. 1 Thess 4:15-17
So, we have looked at the meaning of the the term "rapture"; the comfort of the rapture and its certainty. On this final thought about our introduction to Christ's return for His church in the rapture, we will note the quickness of its approach.
"For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord."
Paul describes the event of the rapture or "catching away" without telling us when it will happen or what to look for before it happens. The emphasis here is that of how sudden the occurrance of the rapture will be. He writes these words in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52
"Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed."
Theologians refer to this feature of the rapture as "imminency", meaning that it could happen at anytime. At anytime, the Lord could appear in the clouds and all the graves of those Christians who died before us would be ripped open. A split second after deceased Christians are resurrected, those Christians who are alive will experience the transformative effects on their bodies, with both groups defying gravity and exiting up through the clouds to be with Jesus.