The Rapture Mystery

By Merrill Olson

In April 2009 Newsmax magazine after laying out all the polling results of Americans’ end time views concluded, “So the idea that creation’s clock could strike midnight at any time turns out to be as American as apple pie, pink slips, and debt collectors. If you mix the morning headlines into the average American’s eschatology, you stir up quite a powerful, angst inducing brew.”

Nevertheless, even for those who are true believers in Christ, many of them still lack a clear understanding of Bible prophecy. They know some of the events, but how they all fit together is like a puzzle to them. Many of them say, “The way the world is becoming more evil each day, Jesus has to be coming soon.” Yet, to explain the unfolding of the biblical events of Bible prophecy remains limited for them.

However, regarding Bible prophecy, two extremes must be avoided. The first has to do with sensationalism. This includes such things as date setting and trying to identify the Antichrist. It also involves seeing every disaster, earthquake, flood, international conflict as a sign of Christ’s soon return. The other extreme is scoffing. There are those who even profess Jesus who scoff. To mention anything about the end times and its signs draws a negative reaction. Even to suggest a coming “Rapture” causes some to respond with scorn toward anyone who would believe in such a thing.

Nonetheless, the “Rapture” still remains a biblical truth. Even though many may also treat it as a mystery, this does not negate what the Bible clearly and distinctively says about it. It is specifically described in 1 Thess. 4:14-17. It is based on three foundational truths: (1) the death of Jesus – “For if we believe that Jesus died” (v. 14); (2) the resurrection of Jesus – “and rose again” (v. 14); (3) the revelation of the Lord – “for this we say to you by the word of the Lord” (v. 15).

The apostle Paul’s teaching on the Rapture is not his own mere speculation. Neither is it found in any part of the Gospels that he could allude to. Instead, it was directly revealed by the risen Christ to him. This revelation is that “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. 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” (1 Thess. 4:16-17).

Our English word “Rapture” is derived from the Latin word “rapio” which means “to catch up, to snatch away, or to take out.” When Jerome translated the Greek New Testament into Latin, the Latin word meant the same as the Greek word “harpazo.” “Harpazo” occurs thirteen times in the New Testament. In those times it is variously translated as “to take by force,” “snatch,” or caught up.” Thus, v. 17 describes being “caught up” “to meet the Lord in the air.” Christ’s redeemed will be “caught up.”

To understand the Rapture is not for the purpose of building one’s eschatological chart. Instead, it is to bring “comfort” (v. 18) to those who are in Christ, who await His return.

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