WHAT IS THE RAPTURE?
John F. Walvoord is perhaps considered the most vocal and prolific advocate for the rapture throughout the twentieth century. In his book, The Rapture Question, he defines the rapture as-
The Scriptures predict that the church will be raptured, or “caught up” to heaven, at the coming of the Lord for them. The word raptureis from rapere, found in the expression “caught up” in the Latin translation of 1Thessalonians 4:17.
John F. Walvoord, “The Rapture Question”, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1979
Rapture advocates build their case almost entirely on First Thessalonians 4:17.
Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 1Thessalonians 4:17
We introduced this commentary by establishing three logical principles for interpreting God’s Word. I would also like to point out to those who may object to the association of “logic” with God’s Word that the word logic is derived from the Greek word, logos, which is a title and name of Christ.
These principles include: Examining the context; Avoiding Contradiction; and Appreciating the original intention. Generally, even Dispensationalists easily accept these three Hermeneutical principles. But in order for their system to work, they also require the addition of two other invented “laws”. These include “the Law of First Mention”, and “the Law of Double Reference.” I have already examined these principles of interpretation espoused by Dispensationalist proponents in the previous Appendix, and shown them to be grossly faulty.
By employing the sound principles of interpretation to the First Thessalonians 4:17 passage we should see that this refers not to a rapture, but to the resurrection. We draw this conclusion from the context of the passage.
In verse 13 the passage is referring to those Christians who have already died, and Paul is pre-empting their resurrection.
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.
In verse 14 the passage is linked to the resurrection of Christ.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.
In verse 16 the expression most commonly used for resurrection, “rise”, is used -
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
Prior to the invention of the rapture doctrine, all published commentators interpreted this First Thessalonians passage as referring to the resurrection. For example, Matthew Henry’s commentary on this passage says –
They shall be raised up from the dead, and awakened out of their sleep, for God will bring them with him, v 14. They then are with God, and are better where they are than when they were here; and when God comes he will bring them with him. The doctrine of the resurrection and the second coming of Christ is a great antidote against the fear of death and inordinate sorrow for the death of our Christian friends…v.17. At, or immediately before, this rapture into the clouds, those who are alive will undergo a mighty change, which will be equivalent to dying…
Matthew Henry, 1721
Matthew Henry, along with nearly all other commentators prior to the invention of Dispensationalism, saw the obvious intention of this passage as referring to the resurrection of the dead at the final coming of Christ, not a secret rapture prior to the resurrection.
Applying the principle of Non-contradiction this First Thessalonians 4 passage compliments statements in First Corinthians 15.
DOES SCRIPTURE TEACH IT?
in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
The whole point to First Corinthians 15 is resurrection, not rapture.
No. Let’s examine some of the key Scriptures used to justify a rapture:
Matthew 24:40-41 "Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.”
- The context of this reference is clearly to the random killings perpetrated by the Romans and their siege of Jerusalem and Judea.
1Corinthians 15:52 “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
- The context of this reference is universally accepted as pertaining to the resurrection, not rapture.
Revelation 4:1 After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, "Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this."
- The context of this reference is essential to understanding the nature and perspective of the Book of Revelation. John received this Revelation from God and was able to see things from God’s perspective. This is not a reference to the rapture.
Revelation 12:5 She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne.
- The context of this reference is to the ascension of Christ, not the rapture of the Church.
Rapturists claim that there are Old Testament precedents for the rapture. They appeal to both Enoch and Elijah as examples of rapture.
By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, "and was not found, because God had taken him"; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God.
We should apply the Hermeneutical principle of Non-Contradiction to this statement by Rapturists.
And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,
How do we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory verses? Are the claims of the Rapturists correct when they imply that Enoch levitated to Heaven? When the Scriptures declare that Enoch did not see/experience/taste death, does this mean that he did not have to go through a “dying” experience? Or, does it mean that he is physically in Heaven now and does not need to partake in the resurrection since he has kept his own body? It appears that there is a case to be made for saying that Enoch did not experience dying like all others, yet he still “died” in the sense that he was separated from his body (note James 2:26).
In either case, this is more a case of translation rather than rapture. The same applies to Elijah. Some see Noah’s Ark as a type of rapture. It would be more accurate to see Noah’s Ark as a picture of Christ instead.