Summary: What is the rapture? What has the church always believed about it?
1. THE BASICS
Let’s define what we are going to be discussing.
1. Rapture. What do we mean, first of all, by the term “rapture” ? In my opinion, the term itself, not found in the Bible, is part of the problem we are having to confront. By giving a new label to this portion of the second coming of Jesus, the teachers who promote this message cause their hearers to understand it in a separated way. Different name, different event, they reason. The word itself means the state of being “caught away in body or spirit.” The idea roughly corresponds to the Greek harpadzo, used several times in Scripture, and translated several ways, but always with the idea of taking something away. Consider the following passages (the words in quotes come from harpadzo):
Matthew 13:19 speaks of how the enemy “snatches” what of God’s Word is sown in the heart of man.
John 10:12, in a similar vein, speaks of the wolf who “catches” sheep and then scatters them.
In Acts 8:39, the Spirit of the Lord “caught away” Philip.
II Corinthians 12:2-4 speaks of Paul’s “catching up” into Paradise. Here is a preview of our own “rapture.”
I Thessalonians 4:17 uses harpadzo to speak of the subject at hand, the “catching up” of all believers to be with the Lord.
In Revelation 12:5, the elect child is “caught up” to God.
So, the idea of a “catching up”, from Enoch to Elijah to Jesus, to our own future appointment with Christ, is a legitimate one, and the term “rapture” seen in this light is surely a descriptive helpful word. However it is unfortunate that the catching away of Christ’s Bride has been disassociated from the destination of the believers. We will be caught up. Of this there is no doubt or contention. But when? And then what? We are not left suspended in mid-air, are we? What happens before and after our rapture?
2. Tribulation. Most students of prophecy also believe in the time of “trouble”. It is well documented by prophets, Jesus, and John:
For example, the prophet Jeremiah in his 30th chapter sees a future era he calls “Jacob’s Trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7). The reference is to the father of the Jewish nation, also known as Israel. He says that this time will be unprecedented in its devastation, the same thing an angel who appears in the book of the prophet Daniel says about a “time of trouble” coming to the planet, in association with resurrections and judgments (Daniel 12:1-3). In other words, this tribulation period is at the end of all things.
That same line of thought is repeated by Jesus in Matthew 24:21. Here the word is “tribulation”, but that is simply another translation of the same Greek word translated “trouble” in other passages. Jesus too is speaking of the end of all things, which he says immediately follows this tribulation. And John’s Book of Revelation describes the horrors of God’s wrath, leaving no doubt to the reader that the time he describes is also the time of the end.
3. Pre- or post- ? So there is some major trouble coming. Unprecedented. Final. And, there’s a “snatching up”, a “catching away”, a “rapture,” coming too. The whole issue we deal with here is , which comes first, the trouble, or the flight? If one believes the catching up is first, he is called a “pre-tribulation rapturist”, whether he particularly likes labels or not. If he believes the rapture is after the tribulation and in fact a part of the second coming of Jesus, he is known as “post-trib.”
How did the church ever get divided on this issue? Let’s trace the teaching back to Bible days.
What have God’s people historically believed about the “catching away” down through the many ages of the Church? Has it always been like today, with these two major opposing views, drawing people into one group or another? No. Absolutely, no.
A warning here before we proceed. After the Bible, which is apostolic and inspired, there is no perfect book. There is no perfect teacher. In the years that followed the death of the apostles, many men began to write, some building as closely as they could on the revelation in existence, from the apostles and prophets, others veering off from time to time. This “veering off” has left us with a great variety of teachings published in the name of the Lord, making it easy for the promulgator of any new doctrine down to this day, to establish his cause somewhere in the chaos. An appeal to the “church fathers” is often a final say-so to an otherwise shaky point. Now there were good men and good books, but as I say, many of the teachings found in those days were not grounded in God’s Word.