TABLE OF CONTENTS (QUICK LINKS)
1. Clarifying the confusion of Matthew 24:29-31 and Mark 13:24-27
2. Clarifying the confusion of Matthew 24:9-13
3. Clarifying the confusion of Acts 3:21
4. Clarifying the confusion of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3
5. Clarifying the confusion of the teaching of the rapture before the Reformation
6. Clarifying the confusion of the word "rapture" being found in the Bible
Bible prophecy is not a prediction of the future, rather a promise about the future. The Bible contains hundreds of specific prophecies that have been fulfilled in specific ways, all with 100% accuracy. There is no denying that truth. Prophecies of Jesus Christ, Israel and world empires are found throughout the Old and New Testaments. Fulfilled prophecy is one of the most powerful proofs that the Bible is truly the Word of God. Since all of the prophecies that were to be fulfilled in the first coming of Christ were fulfilled to the finest detail, we can be sure that the Bible itself is God's revelation to man since no human writer could be 100% accurate.
The most studied prophecy topics are those of the Messiah (Jesus Christ), Israel, the Church and last-days events (including the rapture and tribulation period). Sadly, few pastors or church leaders are interested in teaching Bible prophecy. The result is that prophecy is not a popular topic in churches today. For that reason, many Christians are no longer passionate about the return of Jesus, are lacking in faithful obedience, often prayerless and less interested in studying Scripture."For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." 2 Peter 1:21
As churches become self-absorbed or otherwise apostate, their congregations no longer remain interested in truth. In fact, simple teaching on prophecy subjects is often the first to be shelved because it is too convicting. Scholars note 27% of the Bible is prophetic, which sparks a fire within when complacent Christians consider the ramifications of their lukewarm lives before a just God. However, few congregations are aware of last-days events described in the Bible. Many pastors don't understand or won't study prophecy, so they don't speak on the subject. Others are confused over the debate amongst scholars and theologians as to the timing of the rapture. While the majority of scholars agree with the pre-tribulation view (the rapture happens prior to the tribulation period), many others suggest the Church will go through the tribulation (post-tribulation view). There are two other views which hold less support. These include (1) the mid-tribulation rapture (the rapture takes place at the middle point of the tribulaiton period, and (2) the pre-wrath rapture (the rapture occurs just before the wrath of God is revealed near the end of the tribulation period).Prophecy topics can be difficult to understand, particularly the book of Revelation. As prophecy scholar Dr. Patrick Heron says, it can seem like "a conundrum wrapped in an engima surrounded by a paradox!" Below is an understandable presentation of how Israel, the Church (Body of Christ), and the rapture are presented in Scripture. Included are self-evident truths for the pre-tribulation removal of the Body of Christ (the Church).
The purpose here is not to be contentious towards those with a post-tribulation rapture perspective (meaning the rapture takes place a the end of the tribulation period), or other position. While I am a student of the Bible and Bible prophecy, these are not my conclusions only, but that of hundreds of theologians, scholars and students of Bible prophecy.
Those who consider prophecy and end-times events as mostly allegorical (symbolic) or non-literal are more likely to have an amillennial or post-tribulational rapture view. Those who teach ammillennialism believe the events described in the book of Revelation took place on or before 70 A.D. when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans; thus there is no rapture, no Church Age, no tribulation period. That unbiblical view is held by those who call themselves preterists. On the other hand, post-tribulationists believe there is a Church Age and a tribulation period, and that the rapture of the Church will take place at the conclusion of the tribulation period (a period also known as Daniel's 70th week, described later).
The erroneous suggestion that the Church will go through the tribulation period is an argument based primarily on Matthew 24:29-31, Mark 13:24-27, and Matthew 24:9-13 (explained below). This logically leads Christians to a critical view of their role in society, and the necessity of preparedness for the inevitable. Christians are advised to store food, isolate from society (or governments), and plan to protect their families. The focus is on the coming Antichrist, not the coming of Jesus Christ. Such notions are contrary to what Jesus commanded believers, and thus hinders the Christian from winning a lost world.
Where did the allegorical view of the Bible originate? One of the earliest documented attempts to allegorize Scripture began with the scholar Philo Judaeus. Philo (20 B.C.—54 A.D.) started the Alexandrian School in Alexandria, Egypt. Philo was a Jewish philosopher, well educated in Greek philosophy. He was of a noble Jewish family, and being a dedicated scholar, Philo acquired knowledge in literature, philosophy and the sciences. Himself and other learned Jews were the first to promote the allegorical interpretation of Scripture, a principle well established in Greek learning and used widely in the study of the ancient Greek legends. Philo and his colleagues sought to defend the Old Testament to the Greeks and, even more so, to fellow Jews by accommodating the Scriptures to Greek philosophy as a tool for reinterpreting confusing passages.The first attempts to reinterpret Scripture were rooted in godless human philosophy and an education system based on Greek understanding of the times. This philosophy was continued by other scholars early in Church history, often called the "Hellenization of the Scriputures." Of the early Church fathers, many followed Philo's arguments. The first prominent scholar of that period who applied Philo's approach to New Testament passages was Clement (150 A.D.—215 A.D.), a Greek who was educated at the Alexandrian School in Egypt. In fact, Clement regarded many elements of Greek philosophy as not necessarily in opposition to Christianity. Next was Origen (185 A.D.—254 A.D.), a Roman scholar and writer from the Alexandrian School. Considered one of the most brilliant of the Alexandrian scholars, he was the first noted teacher of the allegorical method of interpretation.
The allegorical interpretation of the Bible and Bible prophecy gained broad acceptance by the third century A.D. Eusebius (260 A.D.—339 A.D.), an early Roman priest, accepted this erroneous theology, and coupled with Philo's and Origen's interpretive approach, later influenced Augustine (354 A.D.—430 A.D.). Augustine, a brilliant theologian, became a strong proponent of allegorical interpretation. He is known as the father of Catholic doctrine, and had great influence on those who would follow. Sometimes called the Augustinian Corruption, his views were endorsed by the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D.Other early Church fathers, including Irenaeus, Tertullian, Lucian and Chrysostom rejected Philo and his contemporaries on the non-literal approach to Scripture, but their views were eventually censored. Not until the 1600s were theologians again freely rejecting the teachings of Augustine and his followers. Today, nearly 500 years after the start of the Reformation, many denominations continue to endorse allegorical teaching. Regretfully, this has led to a vast misunderstanding of Bible prophecy and prophetic events now occurring.
Augustine's allegorical interpretation of the Bible, particularly the book of Revelation, became known as Alexandrian Theology, and dominated the understanding of prophecy during the Medieval Period and Middle Ages (500 A.D.—1500 A.D.), which some scholars call the "dark ages" of the Church. Prophecy was reduced to insignificant symbolic events of the past. Augustine had a huge impact on the Church in this regard. He found acceptance with the Roman Catholic church and later amongst leaders of the Reformation. In fact, most Catholic and many Protestant believers today adhere to Augustine's views on prophecy (whether they know it or not). Since Augustine, Greek philosophy has dominated Christian teaching on prophecy, rather than the Word of God itself.
Those who deem the Bible's description of prophecy
and end-times events as literal, a pre-tribulation rapture
view is likely to be held, meaning the Church will be removed before
the tribulation period. That logically leads to a sense of urgency
for the believer to win as many souls as possible. Preparation is
understood as reaching the lost, knowing that Christ could call His faithful
home at any moment. A student of prophecy, or anyone who desires
to understand last-days events, must consider a literal interpretation
of Scripture. The reasons are self-evident, as are the truths
given in Scripture for the pre-tribulation rapture of the Church.
The book of Daniel is an important starting point for understanding Bible prophecy. Why? Daniel was given a vision by an angel sent from God, detailing Israel's future and subsequent world events. The angel spoke of two distinct futures which dealt with both Israel and the Gentile (non-Jewish) world. These future events, prophetically speaking, are related to events of the holy city of Jerusalem. When studying prophecy, we find events in the world are directly related to events in Jerusalem. That is why Daniel was given a chronology of future events pertaining to Jerusalem and the world. At that time, Daniel and the Israelites were captives in Babylon, and the city of Jerusalem had been destroyed. God chose to give Daniel the remaining "time" alloted to Israel (future), including Jerusalem's role (Daniel 9:24-27):
1. A specific amount of time (years) was determined for Israelites/Jews and Jerusalem.First, the Jewish future was laid out in a specific time line:
2. There would be a decree to rebuild Jerusalem.
3. Jerusalem and the temple would be rebuilt.
4. An Anointed One (Messiah) would be "cut off" (meaning "rejected" or "killed").
5. Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed again.
6. A peace covenant over Jerusalem will be offered by the Antichrist then broken mid-way.
7. The Antichrist will be an abomination that desolates in Jerusalem, but he is detroyed in the end.
That passage is a summary of Jewish history, from Daniel's day to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ at the end of the tribulation period. Exactly what is meant by "seventy weeks?" The word "week" literally means "seven," and modern prophecy scholars agree that "seventy weeks" are "seventy sevens," measured in units of years. Since a "week" is 7 years, the overall time "determined" to Israel was 490 years (70 x 7). Thus, a total of 490 years is all God is giving to Israel. As we will see, those 490 years are broken up, with the final 7 years to be completed in the very near future. When does the final 490 years begin? When a decree is issued to rebuild Jerusalem (next verse):"Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy." Daniel 9:24
The "issuing of the decree" that authorized the rebuilding of both the city of Jerusalem and the temple was given to Nehemiah by Artaxerxes I Longimanus, King of Persia, in 454 B.C.—see The Chronology Of The Old Testament by Dr. Floyd Nolen Jones, pp. 236-237. That is the starting point of the prophecy, and Nehemiah 2:1-20 provides details. The issuing of the decree took place exactly as the Bible declared, fulfilling the time prophesied for the crucifixion to the day:"Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven 'sevens' (or weeks), and sixty-two 'sevens.' It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble." Daniel 9:25
How precise is God's timing! Since 483 years was to pass—seven 'sevens' (or weeks), and sixty-two 'sevens' from the issuing of the decree to the crucifixion of Christ, understanding the entire time allotted to Israel helps us understand the remaining timeline of history for the world. That's history in advance! 490 years were given to Israel, and 483 years have been completed. Seven years remain. Again, those final 7 years (one week) are known as "Daniel's 70th week" or the tribulation period. Here's more detail:454 B.C. (issuing of decree) + 30 A.D. (crucifixion) = 484 years - 1 year for going from B.C. to A.D. = 483 years
As the prophecy continues, Daniel describes the first 483 years or 69 'sevens' (seven 'sevens' plus sixty-two 'sevens') until the time Jesus was crucified. Scholars note that Jerusalem and the temple were rebuilt over a period of seven years (seven 'sevens'), then there was a break before the next sixty-two 'sevens' were fulfilled (Jesus on the cross). Together, there were 69 'sevens.' After the 69 'sevens' (or 483 years), it was prophesied the Messiah would be "cut off." That happened exactly as prophesied. We know that 483 of those years (or 69 "weeks") have been fulfilled as promised—the decree was given, Jerusalem and the temple were rebuilt, and the Annointed One (Jesus Christ) was crucified. Yet, only 483 of the 490 years has completed. Though there are 490 years of Israel's history to be fulfilled, there is a break in those years. That leaves one more "week" or 7 years to be fulfilled at a later time:
Now we see 483 of the 490 years decreed for the Jewish (Israeli) people to put an end to sin (Jesus died in our place) and anoint the most holy (Jesus Christ now sits at the right hand of God) have passed. They were the years up until the Messiah (Jesus Christ) was cut off, or crucified. Though Daniel is receiving tremendous insight, he does not understand Israel's ultimate rejection of the Messiah, and thus is not told of the Church Age to follow. The Apostle Paul would later call this a "mystery" to Israel."Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate." Daniel 9:26-27
What is the Church Age? The Church Age is the period of time between the end of the 69th week and the beginning of the 70th week (the time break between the 483rd and 484th years—the time when God uses Gentiles to spread the Gospel to an imperfect world before dealing with Israel again):
The Church Age is a perpetual mystery (something hidden) to Israel and will remain so until the beginning of the 70th week (the tribulation period). During the Church Age, a certain "number" of Gentiles must come to Christ before the Lord will deal with Israel again. The Church Age is also called "The Time of the Gentiles" or the "Age of Grace," and began at Pentecost when Jesus had risen from the dead and the disciples received the Holy Spirit. That happened in the year 30 A.D. (exactly 483 years after Daniel's prophecy of the issuing of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem—see The Chronology Of The Old Testament by Dr. Floyd Nolen Jones, p. 220) and will conclude with the Church being removed from the earth:"So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in." Romans 11:25
Bible scholars concur the above passages describe the rapture of the Church, ending the Church Age. After the Church is caught up (raptured), God will then turn His focus back to the Jewish people for the final "week" or 7 years, called Daniel's 70th week, completing the 490 years decreed for the people of Israel (Jews). As previously noted, we are now living in the Church Age, a period of time between the end of the 69th week and the beginning of the 70th week. The first 483 years of Daniel's prophecy had nothing to do with the Church, neither will the Church have anything to do with the last 7 years."For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we that are alive, that are left unto the coming of the Lord, shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore, comfort one another with these words." 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18.
So how do we know when the end of the Church Age will come? Jesus gave us a guarantee, and He uses the fig tree as an example. In fact, Jesus said the generation which sees this "blossoming" will be the one that witnesses the events of the last days:
Some have misread this to mean that the fig tree is a symbol for the nation of Israel and that the Lord is saying that when Israel shows signs of life as a nation, then the end is near. Luke said this is not only about the fig tree, but also of "all the trees" (Luke 21:29)."Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 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; 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." Matthew 24:32-39
Everyone knows that when trees begin to put forth their leaves, summer is near. Jesus said that no one knows the day or the hour of the end of the Church Age, though we can know when it is near. Jesus specifically notes events leading up to the end of the Church Age: "blossoming" and "things as usual" on the earth. Jesus was speaking to the disciples (Jews) here, so the generation Jesus speaks of is a reference to Israel. Since Israel did not exist again as a nation until 1948, we can conclude present-day Israel would be the "generation" or "people" Jesus was speaking of in the last days. When it becomes apparent that the world is heading toward the conditions Jesus described, then we can be very sure that His coming is near. The world is quickly reaching the stage Jesus mentioned, and the possibility of the coming of the Antichrist looms on the horizon. A majority of worldly people are ignorant of these coming events, continuing to live "as usual." We are truly living in the last days—no doubt very, very close to the end of the Church Age.
The end of the Church Age will be evident by the removal of the Church, which will produce global economic chaos and fear. The world will be in a state of shock, not understanding that God's focus has turned toward Israel's 70th week, a horrifying time of judgment on earth.
There is no way to know exactly how much time there will be between the rapture of the Church and the beginning of the 70th week; it could be weeks, months or years. The final 70th week (7 years) is also called the "tribulation period," of which the last 3½ years are referred to as the "Great Tribulation"—culminating the worst seven years of human history. The Church will not go through that period, as it is called a time of "Jacob's trouble:"
That prophecy is for Israel, not the Church, though the rest of the world will be affected by it. The name Israel comes from Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham. Jacob was renamed Israel, and twelve of his sons established of the twelve tribes of Israel."Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it." Jeremiah 30:7
Throughout Israel's history its disobedience of God's commands led it to become captives in foreign lands; however, God promised Israel would never lose it's identity. The Jews (specifcially) are the only people group in history to have maintained their identity, language and heritage without being absorbed into the communities or cultures of their foreign hosts and nations. God promised to return them to their homeland and revive their nation status (which happened in 1948, as prophesied). Even so, Satan attempted to destroy the Jews several times in recent history, simply to prevent God's promise to Israel.
For example, in Europe the Jews were massacred time and again on religious, economic and racial grounds. Thousands were slaughtered during the 11th and 12th century crusades. In the 14th century they were falsely accused of causing the Black Plague by poisoning wells, and were subsequently massacred. Many were burned at the stake during the Spanish Inquisition of the 15th century. Still others were murdered by the Cossacks in the Ukraine during the 17th century. Following World War I, hundreds of thousands of Jews were also killed during the Russian civil war. Then came the infamous Nazi Holocaust of World War II. Is it any wonder the Jews dreamed of going home as God promised?
God's promise to Israel is significant in the last days, and as described in Revelation the promised land plays a key role. Israel's refusal to accept Jesus Christ as Messiah brought about the Church Age, and the coming week of "Jacob's trouble." There is no need for anyone, Jew or Gentile, to go through the terrible sufferings of the time of Jacob's trouble, for God has made a way of escape. All who accept His way of escape by faith will be delivered. This is not a "secret" event as some like to call it. If anyting, it is a sacred event! Jesus made clear the condition of the world just prior to this event. A disbelieving world will remain, and sadly, as many denominations (churches) become self-absorbed or otherwise apostate, their congregations no longer remain interested in that truth (described as the wealthy last-days Laodicean church of Rev. 3:14-19).
The following are six key arguments by post-tribulationists
used erroneously to support a post-tribulation rapture:
"Immediately after the distress (tribulation) of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other." Matthew 24:21-31
The above passages, according to post-tribulationists, are describing the Second Coming of Jesus and simultaneous rapture of the "elect" who survived the tribulation period. The term "elect" is used to represent (1) chosen, and/or (2) holy people committed (by their free will) to Jesus Christ. The terms elect, election and chosen are used many times in the Bible and applied in several different ways. The Bible even mentions some angels as "elect" (1 Timothy 5:21)."But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven." Mark 13:24-27
We can agree the passages in Mark 13:24-27 describe the Second Coming of Jesus with angels gathering the "elect" after the tribulation period. The understanding of who are the "elect" is important to grasp. Who are the "elect," and why are they gathered (Greek: epistrpho) by angels instead of being caught up/raptured (Greek: harpazo) to Jesus? The answers are given to us in those passages. The elect mentioned here are those new believers (left behind after the rapture) alive on earth who survived the tribulation period, still in their natural physical bodies. If the elect are raptured at this time (Second Coming) then no one would be left to populate the earth during the new millennium which are not what those passages describe.
The Lord is returning with angels needed to gather and separate the elect (sheep) from the evildoers (goats) who are scattered all over the earth. There is no mention of a resurrection, being caught up, raptured or translated in the verses above. Angels don't resurrect people when they gather them for judgment.
Those who would argue that the rapture is described in the above passages are misinterpreting the depicted events, and/or ignoring other passages regarding the rapture. Let's briefly look at examples showing why Matthew 24:29-31 and Mark 13:24-27 can't be describing a rapture event:
Those passages describe the persecution of the elect during the tribulation period—not the Church which has already been raptured. Again, the elect are those tribulation Saints (millions of whom will be Jews) who have chosen to follow Jesus Christ and reject the Antichrist. Scholars note that other passages describe those events as being attributed to the Jews firstly (generations of Abraham's descendants), the time of Jacob's [Israel's] trouble:"Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away, and betray one another, and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because wickedness is multiplied, most men's love will grow cold. But he who endures to the end will be saved." Matthew 24:9-13
We see the true followers of Jesus during the tribulation period are being handed over to those in authority. Scholars point out the persecution will be on a global scale, as indicated in several other passages. That will be a perilous time unlike any before or after. During the present age (Church Age), believers will see tribulations, but not the tribulation period."At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered." Daniel 12:1
Before the Antichrist (man of sin/lawless one) is revealed and begins to persecute believers all over the world, the Church (restrainer) must first be removed:
The continuity of passages with respect to the Church Age and Jacob's trouble (tribulation period) are explicit. The tribulation period is meant for an unbelieving and unrepentant world, in an effort for God to show Himself sovereign over His people Israel, and every tongue, tribe and nation."He [Antichrist] will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Don't you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming." 2 Thessalonians 2:4-8
The above passage is a reference to Christ's Second Coming and subsequent millennial reign. After the tribulation period ends, Jesus will set up His kingdom on earth, which is the beginning of the restoration of Israel. Because Jesus must remain in heaven until the time for restoration of Israel begins, post-tribulationists propose the rapture of the Church can't happen until the end of the tribulation period. That is to say Jesus can't come for the Church before the tribulation period begins since He must remain in heaven until that period ends to restore Israel to Himself."He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets." Acts 3:21
That argument fails to (1) comprehend of the purpose and timing of the rapture of the Church, and (2) identify where Christ meets the Church at the rapture. We know at the rapture only the Saints see Him (we go up to Him). The world does not see Him, as he has not yet left heaven. The question to be asked is this: At the rapture, is Jesus leaving heaven (as described at the Second Coming), or is He only coming down (not coming out of)—descending from heaven (not leaving), appearing in clouds to the Church only?
At the rapture, Scripture points out Jesus doesn't leave heaven to come to earth. He comes down from heaven, descends into the clouds, where we are caught up "in the air" to Him. In contrast, passages that speak of His Second Coming see Him leaving heaven and touching down on the Mount of Olives; again, a different event from the rapture/resurrection of the Church. Paul writes to the Thessalonians:
So where is Jesus meeting us at the rapture? When Jesus Christ "comes down from heaven," where is He? Paul, speaking of himself, gives us further explanation in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4:"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. 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. Therefore encourage each other with these words." 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18
The apostle Paul states that he was seized (Greek: harpazo) into the third heaven to paradise. That is what will happen when we are seized or raptured, when Christ "comes down from" (not out of heaven; still in the third heaven) to meet us in the clouds. What is the third heaven?"I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows—was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak." 2 Corinthians 12:2-4
When Paul was describing events of his time, he did not have the scientific knowledge that we take for granted, so he did not think of the world in scientific terms or descriptions. Instead he, and others, attempted to conceptualize the world in terms of what they knew, and usually described it visually. So, when they considered the universe, they constructed a multi-layered view, sort of like a large onion composed of various layers with the physical world in which human beings lived at the center. These layers were called "firmament" (Hebrew: raqiy or shamayin—skies or heavens) in the Old Testament, or "heavens" in the New Testament era. There are many other non-Biblical books and writings that also illustrate these "layers."
A study of the Scriptures reveals the first heaven is what we see by day (the sky in which birds fly), the second heaven is what we see by night (outer space where the stars and planets dwell), and the third heaven is what we see by faith (where God lives). The third heaven is the dwelling place of God and His attendant heavenly beings whom He sends to protect Israel and the righteous. The third heaven is beyond the sight of humans, but by faith we believe that Jesus has gone before us to prepare a place for us there. So when Paul claims to have seen the risen Christ he is describing his experience in terms that he, and others, would readily understand. In that cultural context, he would have assumed that God had taken him to the place where it was possible to see spiritual beings, and the risen Christ, in the third heaven.
Remember the first two heavens are visible to man, but the third is divine. When we are raptured, we will meet Him in that place where no one else will see us. So we can conclude the pre-tribulation rapture event described in 1 Thess. 4:16 "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven" does not contradict Acts 3:21 where Jesus "must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything." Jesus does not leave heaven but remains above the earth in clouds when the rapture takes place. He comes in the clouds of the sky where we are taken up to the third heaven, where only we will see Him, out of sight from the rest of the world.Understanding that takes nothing away from Paul's own testimony of an encounter with God. His point was not to tell us how many levels of heaven there are. His point was to tell us that he had powerfully encountered the presence of God, in fact that he had been physically seized/raptured (Greek: harpazo), and seen the risen Christ, just as we will at the rapture.
One of the foremost ways in which God has displayed His glory has been in the form of a cloud. For example, when it was time for the Israelites to begin their exodus out of Egypt, the glory of God took the form of a pillar of fire enshrouded within a cloud.
What a glorious event it will be when we meet Him in the clouds to be with Him forever!"And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them in the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light, to go by day and night: He took not away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people." Exodus 13:21-22
A final note on Acts 3:21. We know the verse is referring to the restoration of Israel. The Church is not being spoken of, and therefore the rapture has no relationship to that passage. However, there is another Scripture about the restoration of Israel—speaking of the ascension of Jesus and Israel's rejection of Him until the tribulation period ensues, made by Hosea:
Hosea confirms why the Church only will see Him at the rapture, not Israel or the unbelieving world. The application is to the Jews who are addressed; they are informed that when their nation as a collective body embraces Jesus as the Messiah, then He will come to them and set up His earthly kingdom, restoring them to Himself. We are told that 144,000 descendants of the 12 tribes of Israel will be chosen to evangelize the Jews (and the Gentiles) during the tribulation period (Rev. 7). The world's population will have full knowledge of the Lordship of Jesus Christ by the end of the tribulation period. There will be no excuses."I will go away and return to My place until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me." Hosea 5:15
"Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction." 2 Thess. 2:1-3Post-tribulationists argue that Paul said in those verses that the coming of the Lord and our being gathered to him would not happen until after the "man of lawlessness" was revealed. That disqualifies the verse to mean a pre-tribulation rapture, so the passage must be about the Second Coming.
Did Paul really say that? Not according to the text. Remember, there are already many believers in heaven from times past, since we know to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Keeping the verses in context, notice Paul emphasizes at the onset (verse 1) that he is speaking of the Coming of Jesus and our gathering (Greek: episynagoge; also 1 Cor. 14:26, Hebrews 10:25 — a convergence, coming together, assembling) to Him. A close examination of the passages immediately following verse 2 is very important so the intended meaning is not taken out of context, exactly what post-tribulationists have done. Paul is simply stating the order of events. We must first depart before we are gathered to Him!
For example, take a look at the word rebellion in the verses above, "...until the rebellion occurs." The word rebellion (or "falling away") is an English translation of the Greek word apostasia. What if the word "rebellion" was not the most correct English translation of that word? The Greek translation of the word apostasia here is a reference to a physical departure or removal, not a falling away or rebellion. Let's look at the word apostasia as departure in the entire context of verses 3-8 that now make sense together:
"3Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not arrive until the departure comes first and the man of lawlessness (sin) is revealed, the son of destruction. 4He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, and as a result he takes his seat in God's temple, displaying himself as God. 5Surely you recall that I used to tell you these things while I was still with you. 6And so you know what holds him back, so that he will be revealed in his own time. 7For the hidden power of lawlessness is already at work. However, the one who holds him back will do so until he is taken out of the way, 8and then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will destroy by the breath of his mouth and wipe out by the manifestation of his arrival." 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8Verses 3-5 above provide a description of the order of events:
And then again in verses 6-8:
1. The Holy Spirit (via the Church) is holding the Antichrist back, though he is still at work now
2. He is to be revealed in the right time
3. The One who holds him back (the Holy Spirit/Church) is taken out of the way (departure)
4. The lawless one (Antichrist) is revealed
5. The Lord returns to destroy the Antichrist (Second Coming)
When using the word "departure" or "removal" in verse 3 above, the subsequent verses coincide and restate the same events. We have three similar statements on the removal of the Church first, and then the revealing of the Antichrist. Even so, we can turn to modern Greek scholars who can give us a clearer understanding as new advances in language and etymology studies often reveal:
We should be intrigued by those Greek scholars who have looked at the etymology of the word apostasia as it relates to the Greeks and the Jews. The recent English translation of the word has generally been accepted as a "falling away." Apostasia is most theologically debated when referring to 2 Thess 2:3, specifically noting events that must precede the Day of the Lord (Second Coming).What is important to know is who were Paul's listeners and what they understood by the term apostasia. Acts 17 says that Paul and Silas came to Thessalonica where there was a synagogue of the Jews. We know Paul reasoned with them from the Scriptures, and some of them believed and joined themselves to Paul and Silas, and there were a great multitude of the devout Greeks. These Thessalonians, both Jews and Greeks who went to the synagogue, were well exposed to the Old Testament which they would be familiar, and would have regarded apostasia to mean Jewish religious departure, defection, abandonment, forsaking, or a complete exit from the faith (not just a "falling away").
In that passage there are at least four views on the meaning of apostasia: (1) a designation for the Man of Sin (Chrysostom, Theophylact, Augustine, Alford, Moffatt); (2) the religious apostasy that will precede the Second Coming of Christ (Calvin, Chafer, Walvoord, Ryrie, Gundry); (3) the religious-political rebellion against Christ that will culminate in the Battle of Armageddon (Hogg, Vine, Moore, Morris, Bruce); and (4) the rapture of the Church, in the sense of physical departure from the earth (English, Wuest, House, Ice).
The expression or meaning of the word was more than a "falling away"; rather it was a removal or departure. According to Dr. Thomas Ice, that meaning is correctly given in the first seven English translations of the Bible where apostasia is translated as either "departure" or "departing". They are as follows: Wycliffe Bible (1384); Tyndale Bible (1526); Coverdale Bible (1535); Cranmer Bible (1539); Breeches Bible (1576); Beza Bible (1583); Geneva Bible (1608).
Dr. Ice notes apostasia appears just twice in the New Testament. In addition to 2 Thess. 2:3, it occurs in Acts 21:21, where, speaking of Paul, it is said "that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake (apostasia) Moses." The core meaning of the word in that verse is "defection" or "departure". The Lidell and Scott Greek Lexicon defines apostasia first as a defection or revolt, then secondly as departure or disappearance. When considering the context of the surrounding passages of 2 Thess. 2:3-8, we can see the word apostasia truly means departure or disappearance. More evidence is given by Jerome's Latin Vulgate from around the time of 400 A.D. which renders apostasia as "discessio", meaning departure. Why was the King James Version the first to change the established translation of "departure"? There is no reason, other than reformation scholars of the time were attempting to transliterate (applying a certain meaning), which unfortunately continued in all following English translations.Dr. Allan A. MacRae, Ph.D., a noted Greek scholar and translator, and former president of theology schools, speaks of the striking parallel between verse 3 of 2 Thess 2, and verses 7-8. Verse 3 mentions the departure of the Church as coming first, and then tells of the revealing of the man of lawlessness. In verses 7 and 8 we find the identical sequence. Verse 7 tells of the removal of the Church; verse 8 says: "And then shall that lawless one be revealed." Thus close examination of the passage shows an inner unity and coherence, if we take the word apostasia in its general sense of "departure," while a superficial examination would easily lead to an erroneous interpretation as "falling away" because of the proximity of the mention of the "man of sin."
Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest, LL. D., (Doctor of Laws), also a noted Greek scholar, New Testament translator, Greek word-study author and professor, adds further contextual support for taking apostasia as a physical departure. He notes apostasia of which Paul is speaking (verse 3), precedes the revelation of Antichrist in his true identity, and that which holds him back (verse 6) also precedes his revelation. The apostasia, therefore, cannot be either a general apostasy in Christendom, nor can it be the particular apostasy which is the result of his activities in making himself the alone object of worship. Furthermore, that which holds back his revelation (verse 3) is vitally connected with verse 7, He who holds back the same event. Dr. Wuest is driven to the inescapable conclusion that the apostasia in verse 3 refers to the removal of the Church which precedes the Day of the Lord (Second Coming), and holds back the revelation of the Man of Sin who ushers in the world-aspect of that period.
The English word departure certainly fits the conext (or coherency) of 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8. Most post-tribulationist theologians refuse to address the entire context as it is given, and thus insist the lexical evidence does not suggest a physical departure. But that is exactly what the lexical evidence does suggest. Dismissing the obvious coherence in those passages would be simple ignorance or a stubborn refusal to consider the Scriptural evidence. Remember, if we take a word out of context and apply a dissimilar meaning, we have then created a new pre-text. Likely that happened in the translation in the King James and later versions.
A common argument is that none of the early Church fathers acknowledged or taught the pre-tribulation rapture, and thus the idea of a "rapture" is a relatively new concept. That argument is not only false, but lacks an understanding of Church history. For example, not until after the Protestant Reformation did people get copies of the Bible and once again adopt a literal interpretation, and thus begin to understand prophecy as it was intended. This is when the concept of the pre-tribulation rapture was revived, not invented.
Remember, since Augustine, a literal interpretation of Bible prophecy was prohibited. Prior to that, we have numerous examples of early Church fathers writing about the rapture. Specifically, these writings were pertaining to imminency (meaning the return of Jesus Christ for the Church can happen at any moment). Imminency is especially prominent in the writings of the apostolic fathers (up to the third century A.D.). They had no reason to conclude otherwise, as they relied on the strength of the literal fulfillment of prophecy in the Old Testament.
In the first century A.D., Clement and Ignatius wrote frequently of the imminent return of Jesus Christ for the Church. Other early Christian texts, such as the Didache (Greek: teaching), also known as the "Teaching of the Twelve Apostles," written about 50 A.D.—100 A.D., provided clear teaching on imminency. The Didache also speaks of the testing of the tribulation Saints and of the Second Coming. Another early text, the Shepherd of Hermas (or Pastor of Hermas, 110 A.D.) contained a pre-tribulation rapture concept regarding the tribulation period: "If you then prepare yourselves, and repent with all your heart, and turn to the Lord, it will be possible for you to escape it [tribulation period]." The Epistle of Barnabas (131 A.D.) is yet another early text describing imminency. This continued throughout early Church history, as seen in the early medieval Church:
Ephraem the Syrian (lived in the 4th century A.D., also known as Pseudo-Ephraem, Ephrem or Ephraim) of the Byzantine Church wrote about the Lord's return as being imminent in his sermon "On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World." He stated, "All Saints and elect of God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins." Scholars note the word "pseudo" (Greek for false) is a prefix attached by scholars to the name of a famous historical person or book of the Bible when one writes using that name. Pseudo-Ephraem claims that his sermon was written by Ephraem of Nisibis (306 A.D.—373 A.D) who was considered to be the greatest figure in the history of the Syrian church.Many early Church fathers understood the concept of the Lord returning for His own before the tribulation period. They exhorted Christians to live a life of purity and faithfulness. However, with the adoption of Augustine's allegorical views by the Catholic Church in 431 A.D., the concept of a pre-tribulation ratpure was shunned. A revival of the concepts of imminency and the rapture didn't happen until after the Protestant Reformation, when people again obtained copies of the Bible and began interpreting it literally.
The earliest post-Reformation writings began in the 1600s. The concept of the rapture was likely first revived by Increase Mather (1639—1723), a Puritan leader. Though a post-tibulational view, he did begin to break down the Bible's clear teaching of a separate rapture of the Saints where the dead in Christ rise first before all return with Him at the Second Coming.
Mather wrote of the earth's coming destruction by fire, and he cited scriptures describing the Saints as being "caught up into the air" beforehand, escaping the final conflagration (judgment of Christ at the Second Coming). Yet Mather had not been able to grasp the timing of the rapture, so he placed it at Christ's Second Coming, followed by the conflagration on earth, followed by the translated Saints returning to earth in order to live there during the millennium. Mather's error was that all Saints still alive at the end of the tribulation period would be caught up to Jesus, leaving only evil men to be destroyed at the Second Coming. We know this is not correct, as there will be those who accept Christ during the tribulation period, survive, then enter the millennium in their natural phycial bodies to be with the Lord. They are not raptured, but rescued by angels as desribed in Matthew 25:31-46 (separation of sheep and goats).
Another early Church leader, Peter Jurieu, taught that Christ would come in the air to rapture the Saints and return to heaven before the battle of Armageddon (from his book, Approaching Deliverance of the Church, published in 1687). Morgan Edwards, probably America's most infleuntial Baptist pastor of the 18th century, wrote a book in 1744, teaching the pre-tribulation rapture. Another publication on the subject came from Spain in 1812, entitled The Coming of Messiah in Glory and Majesty, written by Emmanuel Lacunza in 1790. Lacunza was a Jesuit priest from Chile (Chilean theologian of Spanish descent) writing under the assumed name of Rabbi Juan Josafat Ben-Ezra as a converted Jew. The book was later translated into English by Presbyterian minister Edward Irving and published in England in 1827.
John Nelson Darby (1800—1882), scholar and founder of the Plymouth Brethren, was influenced by Lacunza's book. After the Reformation, Darby was the first scholar to refine the pre-tribulation rapture doctrine, and many have incorrectly thought Darby conceived the pre-tribulation rapture (or "secret" rapture) in the early 1800s. Rather, he would be one of many scholars to come who would recognize prophetic Scriptures as accurate descriptions of past, present and future promises. Even so, little understanding of prophecy, the rapture, Church Age or Israel existed within Christianity—it had to be learned again. Few theologians wrote about it, and those who did were often influenced by humanistic Alexandrian theology. The literal interpretation of prophetic passages soon gained acceptance around the world. Author William Blackstone wrote Jesus is Coming (1878), taking rapture doctrine to the prophetic forefront, as did the Scofield Study Bible in 1909. Since then hundreds of Bible scholars, theologians, pastors and teachers have written on the topic.
The freedom to interpret the Bible literally allowed for a comprehensive system of pre-tribulational/pre-millennial theology to be developed. This could not have happened until modern times. Of course it is also true that no comprehensive systems of eschatology (study of last things) were developed until modern times. Why might this be so? The doctrine of the Trinity was known, yet not embraced by Christians until well after the first century A.D. Why would eschatology have waited until modern times for Christians to seriously work on it systematically and comprehensively? Simply put, there was no freedom to do so. Freedoms and discernments within Christendom were kept in check prior to our modern era.The rapture doctrine was revived after the Reformation by those who could freely accept prophecy as literal. Many denominations (Catholic and Protestant) continue to adhere to the false doctrines of Augustine, and thus refuse to acknowledge Bible prophecy (27% of the Bible) has any significance today. Unfortunately, it has been estimated that nearly 100 million American church members (about 63% of church attendees) have very little or no understanding of Bible prophecy, or the significance of Israel and events surrounding the Middle East. This is the result of Alexandrian theology. Prophetic truth has been suppressed for generations; even so, we are promised victory.
Is the word "rapture" found in the Bible? Yes, in the original Greek. The Greek "harpz," "harpaz," "harpazo," "harpadzo" or "harpotso" all mean "to seize upon with force," "take suddenly and vehemently" or "to snatch up." Another variation is "harpagesometha" which is translated "caught up among." Harpazo was rendered in Latin as "rapio," "rapus," "rapere" or "rapiemur;" all verbs meaning "to seize" as stated in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, "Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up (raptured) together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air." In the fourth century A.D., the Latin Vulgate used "rapiemur," as translated by Jerome. Other verb forms in the Latin Vulgate are "raptum", "raptus" and "raptura" or "rapturo." The Latin "rapiemur" is the root of the English and French term "rapture." The French meaning is literally "abduction" or "to carry off." The English meaning is "caught up," equivalent to the Greek "harpazo," and the Latin "rapiemur." The Greek "harpazo" is the equivalent of the Hebrew "natzal" meaning "to be plucked" or "plucked out."
Described precisely in the original Greek, living believers will be "caught up/raptured/rapiemur/harpazo" in the air, translated into the clouds, in a moment in time to join the Lord. It's a sudden, rapid change. Other Latin words had similar meanings. For example, the English word "rapid" comes from the Latin "rapidus," meaning "hasty, snatching," which is from the Latin "rapere," meaning "hurry away, carry off, seize, plunder," where, again we get the source of the English term "rapture."
The word "rapture" is unquestionably a Biblical term. For those who say the term "rapture" is not in the Bible, they are saying the term is foreign to the Bible itself, which it is not. That also leads to the wrong conclusion that the doctrine itself is not Biblical since the suggestion is that the term is entirely foreign to the Word of God. The truth is that the term is there, in plain Greek, Latin and English!
Almost all words in our English Bible are translations of Greek or Hebrew expressions, and are not always in the form we know them. For example, "Jesus" is a good translation of His name "Yeshua" ("Joshua," "The Lord Saves" in Hebrew). In the same way, the English word "rapture" which means "caught up" is an excellent translation for the Greek "harpazo." Because God's Word was originally written in Hebrew and Greek, one could say that all English words are not in the Bible.
For those who erroneously claim the word rapture is not in the Bible, they also
claim that nowhere in the Bible does it say that the Church will be raptured before the tribulation period.
Obviously we could follow that logic by saying neither does the Bible directly say the Church will
go through the tribulation period.
The removal of the Body of Christ before the
tribulation period (Daniel's 70th week) is a self-evident promise in Scripture.
If we study and comprehend the differences between the Church and Israel,
and the differences between the rapture and the Second Coming, then other
prophetic passages will be more understandable.
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Short Reference List:
The Origin of the Concept of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture, From Man or the Bible?
The Great Snatch?
The Rapture in 2 Thessalonians 2:3
"The History of the Doctrine of the Rapture, Part II: A History of the Pre-Conflagration Rapture"
The Rapture Solution, Putting the Puzzle Together
Defending the Pre-Tribulation Rapture
Bible Prophecy Study: Pre-Tribulation Rapture
Four Views of End Times Prophecy
The Word Rapture is Biblical
Reasons Why The Church Will Not Be In The Tribulation Period