Tuesday, November 28, 2023

What Rapture?

Discussions on the doctrine of the ‘Rapture’ normally revolve around the question, “When will it occur?” For example, will the ‘Rapture’ take place before the “Great Tribulation,” at its midpoint, or end? But this question misses the critical point. Nowhere does the New Testament even mention any ‘Rapture’ at all, or at least, not by that term if by it we mean the physical removal of the church from the Earth and its transportation to “heaven.”

The New Testament does not describe a day when followers of Jesus are whisked off the Earth to a timeless reality outside the space-time continuum, whether as resurrected saints or disembodied spirits.

Graves in sunlight - Photo by Krisztina Papp on Unsplash
[Photo by Krisztina Papp on Unsplash]

This is a popular idea that is read into the key passage in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. In doing so, proponents of the ‘Rapture’ make several questionable assumptions - (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

First is the idea that as Jesus descends from Heaven, he suddenly reverses course and returns to Heaven with his church in tow, something the passage never describes. It only ends with the statement, “And so will we be with the Lord forevermore.” It never states where this happy condition will be except “in the air.” The conclusion can just as easily fit a scenario in which the saints accompany Jesus as he continues his descent to the Earth.

Second, the Pre-Tribulation ‘Rapture’ interpretation sees the passage as evidence that this is a “coming” of Jesus distinct from his arrival in glory at the end of the age. Most often, this conclusion is assumed because the text says nothing about the judgment of the wicked when he appears “on the clouds.” However, that is an argument from silence.

Third, the preceding argument ignores the larger context of Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians. In the very next chapter, he warns that the unprepared will be overtaken by the events of this same day - “Like a thief in the night.”

The Apostle labels this event the “Day of the Lord,” which elsewhere in Scripture is associated with God’s judicial punishment of the wicked. In his second letter to the Thessalonians, he declares that the day Jesus is “revealed from Heaven” will mean vindication for the righteous but everlasting destruction for the wicked. Both events occur on the same day - (1 Thessalonians 8:1-9, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10).

A further problem is the consistent picture elsewhere in the New Testament of the “coming” of Jesus. He is always “coming” to the Earth and never is he depicted as departing and returning to Heaven. The New Testament always refers to ONE future “coming” of Jesus, never two or more.

When any direction is provided in a passage, he is always coming “from Heaven” and descending to the Earth - (Matthew 16:27, Matthew 24:30, Matthew 25:31, Matthew 26:64, Acts 1:11, 2 Thessalonians 1:7, Revelation 1:7, 1 Corinthians 15:23, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 4:16).

Every passage in the New Testament that refers to his future return always uses nouns and verbs in the singular number. There is one and only one coming of Jesus. No single passage covers every aspect of his “coming,” but between the related passages, consistent features emerge.

Dusk - Photo by Jared Bell on Unsplash
[Photo by Jared Bell on Unsplash]


The most comprehensive list of things that will occur when Jesus arrives is provided in First Corinthians. His “arrival” will include the resurrection of the dead, the cessation of death (the “last enemy”), the final subjugation of all hostile powers, the consummation of the kingdom, and the transformation of the saints still alive from mortality to immortality - (1 Corinthians 15:20-28).

That event will result in the separation of the righteous from the unrighteous. It will mean joy to the prepared but disaster to the unprepared - (Matthew 13:30. 25:13, 25:31-46, Luke 12:33-39, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6).

His “revelation” from Heaven will mean vindication for his people but “everlasting punishment” for those men who persecuted them. At his “arrival,” the “Man of Lawlessness” will be destroyed, and that day will mean the end of the old order and the inauguration of the “New Heavens and the New Earth” - (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, 2:8-10, 2 Peter 3:10-12).

This sequence of events rings with great finality. Death will cease forever, and the New Creation will commence. Resurrected believers will be with the Lord “forevermore,” but the unrighteous will receive “everlasting” separation from the presence of the Lord - (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, 2 Thessalonians 2:5-10).

The finality of that day leaves no room for several other popular interpretations, including the Millennium when death and sin both continue to occur, however rare.

Christian hope is not found in escape from the creation but in the raising of the dead and the New Creation. The Gospel is about redemption, not abandonment, and this will include the resurrection of the righteous dead - (e.g., John 5:29, Romans 6:5, 8:19-25, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, Philippians 3:10, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

At the end of the Book of Revelation, New Jerusalem “descends” from Heaven to the Earth. The saints do not ascend to it. In it, the redeemed saints live forever in the presence of God and the “Lamb” free from all sorrow and suffering - (Revelation 21:1–22:5).

In short, not only does Scripture never mention the ‘Rapture,’ this common and popular doctrine is incompatible with the biblical hope of redemption, which includes the bodily resurrection and the New Creation.