This, as with everything I write, started with a conversation. In this case, a conversation that turned out one-sided and ended with the other person telling me that discussions about the rapture are filled with fallacies, and comparable to eating a cupcake, nutritionally pointless.
Let us try to avoid the fallacies and see what scripture admonishes us to teach.
I want to begin with Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.
It seems Paul’s purpose in writing was meant to strengthen their faith and give them an assurance of Christ’s return. Throughout the letter to the Thessalonians we gain clues that will support why we need to have an enthusiasm for the “rapture”. Most of Paul’s letters had a doctrinal section and a practical section. The practical lends itself to chapter four, and that is where I am headed.
Background and Setting
“Thessalonica (modern Salonika) lies near the ancient site of Therma on the Thermaic Gulf at the northern reaches of the Aegean Sea. It may have been a vacation attraction because of the thermal springs. This city became the capital of Macedonia (c. 168 B.C.) and enjoyed the status of a “free city” which was ruled by its own citizenry under the Roman Empire.” (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, Copyright © 2005 by John MacArthur). Sometime during the early centuries of the spread of Christianity, Thessalonica came to be nicknamed “the orthodox city” because of its Christian character (Dean Farrar, The Life and Work of St. Paul, New York: Cassell and Company, Limited, 1904, p. 364). Salonika is still an important city in Greece. Because of the Jewish dispersion it is estimated that one-third of the population was Jewish. The Jews brought with them their ethical, monotheistic faith, quite the contrast to the Greeks and Romans they were living with.
While preaching Jesus as Messiah (the Jewish king) in Thessalonica, Paul had been accused of preaching another king besides Caesar (Act_17:7). The very young Thessalonian church continued to experience persecution after Paul’s departure, but he encourages them with the promise of a future hope, which applies even to those who have already died (1Th_4:13-18). (The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, Copyright © 1993 by Craig S. Keener)
Paul’s entrance and exit from Thessalonica are recorded in Acts chapter 17. It did not go well and noble men escorted Paul and Silas to safety where they traveled on to Berea.
Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women. But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and attacking the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people. When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the world have come here also; and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” They stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things. And when they had received a pledge from Jason and the others, they released them. The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men. But when the Jews of Thessalonica found out that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea also, they came there as well, agitating and stirring up the crowds. Then immediately the brethren sent Paul out to go as far as the sea; and Silas and Timothy remained there. (Acts 17:1-14 NASB)
Because of the nature of the letter, and the soundness of the biblical doctrines, I tend to make several assumptions. First, I presumed that Paul had a reasonable amount of time with them. Secondly, I assumed that he had established some elders in this church and that might have happened. The third thing dominant in my thinking is the depth of conversation about the things of God he was able to have with them. Most people will struggle for months over the concept of eternal salvation, and yet in Christ this is well-defined. A simple example of this is found in: (John 10:28 NASB) and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.
Paul reasoned with them for three Sabbaths.
I cannot imagine that he took non-Sabbath days off. Three weeks might not have been enough time for him to set up his tent making operations, making a couple of dollars to buy groceries, but you can certainly make a huge impact on receptive ears in three weeks. Nonetheless, in three weeks he gave them a solid foundation and a bit more.
What I have to remind myself is that Paul’s first stops were always to the Synagogues. Here you should find people who are well established in the law and the prophets due to oral tradition. The truth the Holy Spirit built into Paul was based in the Law and the Prophets, so he does have a common ground. In recovery, I have found that the greatest testimony of Christ’s work in me has everything to do with what I personally know and have experienced – freedom and hope. This is what Paul found and this is the message he spread.
Jewish ways and tradition run deep, but then history proves that so does the affinity for idolatry, but we will ignore that for the moment seeing as we all struggle with that one. Within three weeks, many are ready to kill Paul, or at minimum run him out-of-town. It may have been a free city and not under the heavy hand of Rome, but insurrections were put down swiftly. Regardless, Paul and Silas are now gone.
Due to a bible study I attended, my focus lately has been on the later half of chapter four, beginning with this: 1 Thessalonians 4:13 NASB (13) But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.
I think it is brilliant how the Holy Spirit, open so much truth just in one sentence. Paul used the word for uninformed, not because he had left it out of his three-week crash course, but because someone had muddied up the water of truth; probably by bringing in external circumstances into the picture. You know how some people are so good at pointing out the obvious to you, for the express purpose of keeping you founded in sound doctrine. I suspect they mean well, but their delivery has no intent other than pointing out your fallacy, and how improperly discipled you apparently are, while making, themselves look better.
Another aspect of this verse is the ramification of being asleep. No, I am not talking about falling asleep in church; I do it all the time. Besides, I am often tired by the time I get there, and the setting is perfect for sleeping. Asleep should mean dead, sort of, if it were not for the fact, our soul never dies. Ah, come on now, even atheists believe in ghosts. Why would Paul have to have a conversation about them grieving over some that have died? No one is saying that it is not okay to grieve your loss of a loved one. However, if I have hope, another aspect of Paul’s conversation, then I should understand that because they too had a relationship with Jesus Christ, I would see them again. This one verse carries the idea of our being with Jesus; due to something we like to call the rapture, written all over it.
The same guy that shut down our morning conversation, because he alone felt that the mention of the rapture deserved the brunt of his displeasure, feels strongly that we should only focus on the doctrines of the church. Really, what does that mean, because those can be different depending on what denomination you are. Doctrines, in general, are the basics that establish our relationship with God. An example might be found in the Apostles creed:
In God the Father.. Maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into Hades; the third day he rose from the dead;
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
The holy catholic Church; the communion of saints;
The forgiveness of sins;
The resurrection of the body;
And the life everlasting.
There are at least five other versions of the creed, none wholly in agreement with the other. So, which doctrines are we to preach to people? While there are only four words in here that give me grief, the overall is impact is YES, this is what I believe. These things validate our hope. Moreover, if my argumentative friend were to read them again, he might realize that they include the concept of the rapture.
It is clear that Paul believed whole-heartedly in the harpazo, or snatching away of the church. My friend had to let me know that “the rapture did not exist until the 1800’s.” Moments like this make me wish my brain worked better. How dare you accuse me of dispensing fallacies when you make an uneducated statement such as he did. While it may be true that the terminology “rapture” did not become popular until the 1800’s, does not make it a meaningless term. The word rapture is a derivative of the Latin word rapiemur and is found in the Latin Vulgate. It effectively means a snatching away.
The Latin Vulgate translates the Greek ἁρπαγησόμεθα as rapiemur, from the verb rapio meaning “to catch up” or “take away”.
21 1 Thessalonians 4:17. deinde nos qui vivimus qui relinquimur simul rapiemur cum illis in nubibus obviam Domino in aera et sic semper cum Domino erimus (Latin Vulgate).
22 Clouse, R.G. (1984). Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. p. 908. ISBN 0-8010-3413-2.
Let us get something straight now. Jesus only guaranteed us a few things:
- In this world, you will have tribulation.
What does that mean? It means that the potential of things going extremely hard and you being killed are a harsh reality
- You, as a follower of Christ, will be hated by all men.
That includes religious folk.
- Jesus said, I will not leave you, nor forsake you. I will come back for you.
Tribulation ≠ Wrath. Tribulation is a way of life, and NO, God is not terribly interested in whether you drive the newest Mercedes-Benz.
- There is a valid hope, and it includes a life with the Father in a land of peace.
Some of the questions you have to ask yourself, if you are trying to make a decision as to whether the rapture is relevant or not, is:
- Are there two or three witnesses?
I recently looked this up. Of the books of the New Testament, there are only two in which I cannot see any reference to end times and the rapture.
- Who spoke about it and can we trust them?
This one scares me because it is so pathetic. Paul never left the subject untouched, whether he called it our hope or our gathering to Him.
Jesus spoke about it. John’s gospel is one the largest collection of references to the concept.
John 14:3 ASV And if I go and prepare a place for you, I come again, and will receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
John 14:18 KJV I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
- Is it possible that there are other terms being used and I am missing this?
Absolutely! It is called:
- (Coming) 2 Peter 3:3-4 KJV Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, (4) And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
- 2 Thessalonians 2:1 KJV (1) Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,
- Mark 14:62 KJV And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.
- 2 Corinthians 1:14 MKJV (14) even as you have recognized us in part, that we are your rejoicing, even as you also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus.
You should get the idea by now.
1 Thessalonians 4 may answer any questions we have, if we give it a chance.
1 Thessalonians 4:14 MKJV (14) For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will also bring with Him all those who have fallen asleep through Jesus.
“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again” This is one of those things that define us; it is essential, doctrinal, and foundational truth for every believer.
“..even so God will also bring with Him all those who have fallen asleep through Jesus.” I can apply this statement to two things. First, since the dead in Christ will rise first, they will be with him and possibly be considered to be brought with Him. The second is at the end of the seven-year period, the time of God’s wrath upon the earth.
Zechariah 14:5 KJV And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azal: yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah: and the LORD my God shall come, and all the saints with thee.
Here is the passage that tends to trouble me.
1 Thessalonians 4:15 KJV (15) For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
“For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord” If Paul has to reestablish where his inspiration is coming from, that tends to tell me that these people had really had their boat rocked.
Speaking from experience, I came to the Lord at perhaps age 12. I tend to cling to that age as a reference point. In reality, evangelistic preachers would come about every six months. I, like so many others, would go down front to repent and be born again; why, because I never had an assurance of my salvation. Mom did not help much with that, as she would emphasize that some minor stupidity we pulled as kids needed to be repented of, or God just might bypass us and we would end up in hell. Needless to say, most of my childhood involved fear.
“, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.” This tells me that one of two things have affected them. Someone has come behind Paul and preached a message that confuses or contradicts what Paul had taught, or tribulation, a perceived evidence of the seven-year period after the rapture, has come in their minds.
I do not know when this started, but I can tell you that we have done this to ourselves. The seven-year period is called the time of God’s wrath upon the earth. Jesus indicated that it would be a time of such great tribulation, that no one would survive unless God shortens time. It is a time of judgment. If I were Paul and I only had three weeks to bring you up to speed, establishing that you are no longer under condemnation for sins would be high on my list of points to make. Just because we are forgiven, purchased out from under the debt we owed, does not give us that full access we see; acceptance of Jesus Christ as the one that paid that price does.
I do not understand for the life of me, why God needs these old bodies, but he seems to want to have them attached to the souls they belong with.
This next verse is the snatching away for which we long. We, out of habit, call it the rapture.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 KJV (16) 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: (17) Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
For me, the key argument about why I should understand, believe, and preach the coming of Jesus Christ, something I happen to believe is imminent, comes in the next verse. It also happens to be the last verse of chapter 4.
1 Thessalonians 4:18 KJV (18) Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
Placement is everything. Since Paul had encouraged and admonished the church already, then it makes sense to say, use these words to comfort one another. If he had placed this sentence else where in the text, then I would have to wonder what kind of documents to they have to refer to, to gain this encouragement. You do realize, that all they had was the Holy Spirit and their memories to hold them together.
I believe, especially now, that we were meant to understand and preach this message. I believe it is even more relevant today because many around us have seen these prophecies happen before their eyes. Israel becoming a nation is one of them.
No the subject is not new, even Daniel ends with this hope.
Daniel 12:1-4 KJV And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which stands for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. (2) And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (3) And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. (4) But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.