The Christian Rapture
The Catching Away of the Church
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: 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. Wherefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)
Grace and peace, from our Lord Jesus Christ be to you all in all faith and love. We know that this present world brings trials and test to our faith and at times the road seems long to our determined goal. However, we are assured that at last the Lord of Life shall call all to Himself. The Saints have, for some time, called this blessed advent “The Rapture.” However, the concept is more of a snatching away. When you are tired of the enemy oppressing you on every side, and the fires of hell seeming to be kindled beneath your very feet, there exist the hope that you shall be “snatched” from the danger as “a brand plucked out of the fire” (Zachariah 3:2). Our text ended by saying, “Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
In this writing we will explore the idea of the “rapture.” In doing so, we will attempt to address five points of this blessed event. The five particulars are:
1. The Biblical Fact of the Rapture;
2. The Biblical Types and Shadows of the Rapture;
3. The Biblical Examples of a Rapture;
4. The Nature of the Rapture;
5. The Time Of the Rapture.
Other terms (that will be explained) employed in this writing for “the rapture” are:
a. The Catching Away/up;
b. The Snatching Away/up;
c. The Translation; but most importantly:
d. The Harpadzo (Greek).
I. The Biblical Fact of the Rapture.
To begin with, we should clear up the controversy surrounding the word rapture. We often hear that the word does not appear in the Bible, and therefore should not be used in our theological terminology. I concur with the above stated observation, but would stop short of enforcing the conclusion. While we should support the concept of “calling Bible things by Bible names” we must acknowledge that those “Bible names” change from one language to another. If one would live fast by this rule, one should use only the Hebrew and Greek names for Bible things, thereby avoiding all the confusion caused by translation. The word “rapture” comes to us from the Latin Vulgate (fourth century Latin version of the Bible) and it simply means to be “caught up.” So if one lived in the particular part of the world, and at that particular period, when the Bible existed only in the Latin language, “rapture” would indeed be considered a biblical term.
However, having come, as it were, to the defense of the term “rapture,” we should push past the debate and go on to the crux of the matter; namely, the Greek word employed by the New Testament for this phenomenon. The Greek word used by the apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is “harpadzo” (Strong’s #NT726). Harpadzo means: to seize, to take to one’s self, to choose, to take by force. Therefore, the KJV translators have rendered the word “harpadzo” as “caught up.” However, we may conceive more correctly by the phrase: “snatched away.”
The writer of Hebrews refers to the prophet Enoch’s being “caught up” with the term: “translated.” “By faith he was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5).
In that the word “harpadzo” embodies all three phrases, (namely: caught away, snatched away, and translated) we will be mostly using this word to reference the rapture.
Basically, there are but two passages which are considered to clearly teach a “catching away” of the saints: one is our text (1 Thessalonians 4:17); the other is 1 Corinthians 15:50-52. However, when both passages are examined, it becomes clear that only First Thessalonians 4:17 refers to a harpadzo (“a snatching out”).
Now, this may, or may not, be significant. We will examine it in the section of this letter dealing with the “nature” of the harpadzo. However, for the convenience of your study, both passages are juxtaposed here:
1 Corinthians 15:50-52.
“Now this I know brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
1 Thessalonians 4:16-18.
“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, and with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be called up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
Presented in these two texts are the facts of what is commonly called “the rapture” (this writing will primarily use the Greek word “harpadzo”). To the Corinthians, Paul writes of a “change” for all; namely, the dead and the living. To the Thessalonians Paul writes of the dead in Christ rising, and all, both the dead in Christ and the living saints, being “caught up” (harpadzo) “to meet the Lord in the air.” To the Corinthians: all are “changed;” to the Thessalonians: all are “caught up,” literally, snatched up/away/out.
II. Biblical Types and Shadows of the Harpodzo
The writer of Hebrews, in chapters 9 and 10, demonstrates how the Tabernacle of Moses “was a figure for the time then present” (Hebrews 9:9). More importantly, we are told that “the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing” (Hebrews 9:8); but, since the first advent of Christ, His blood has opened that hidden way into the “holiest of all.” The author of Hebrews writes: “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;” (Hebrews 10:19-20).
The “catching away” is pictured through the tabernacle in the following way: the tabernacle was divided into two rooms—an outer room and an inner room. The outer room was called “the holy place,” and in Bible typology stands for the church age from the time of Pentecost up to the harpadzo. The inner room was called the “holy of holies,” and stands for the perfect age that will be established upon the new earth (Revelation 21:1-22:5). Separating these two rooms was the veil which spanned from wall to wall and reached from the floor to the ceiling. The veil had no openings, and was four to six inches thick.
Just how, the priest, who represented the people of God, entered into the holy of holies from the holy place was a mystery (Hebrews 9:8). As long as the physical tabernacle stood the mysterious “way” into the holiest was never revealed. The author of Hebrews gives a clue by penning the words “through the veil” (Hebrews 10:20). It would seem then, that the priests were “translated” through the veil to stand before the mercy seat by a supernatural act of God. Since it has been established by the Scripture that the outer room (i.e. holy place) represents the church, and the inner room (i.e. the holy of holiness) represents the perfect age, it would naturally follow that the translation of the priest “through the veil” would be a type and shadow of the translation of the saints, or what is rendered by the Greek word “harpadzo,” i.e. the catching up.
III. Biblical Examples of the Harpodzo
When Paul writes to the Thessalonians: “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17), he is not introducing a totally new idea. This had happened before! Both, the prophets Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11) had been physically translated. Paul is, however, announcing an Enoch/Elijah type event on a grand scale.
When Paul writes to the Corinthians: “behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51), he is reminiscent to what the Scripture says about the prophet Enoch: “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; he was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5). Since the harpadzo (catching away), of 1 Thessalonians 4:17, is parallel to the catching away of Enoch, and since the letter to the Hebrews calls Enoch’s experienced a “translation,” it is biblical to refer to the rapture as “The Translation of the Saints.”
One is not to forget Elijah’s spectacular departure (2 Kings 2:11) from Elisha. The translation of the prophet Elijah should be viewed with interest, because the prophet seems to have still been around some years later to write a stinging letter to King Jehoram, the then monarch of Judah (one should read, with interest, 2 Chronicles 21:1-15). It seems quite likely that such supernatural translations of Elijah, from one place to another, was characteristic of his mission. That this event may have repeated itself in the prophet’s life is strongly suggested by what “the sons of the prophets” said to Elisha.
Found in the book of 2 Kings 2:16 one can read the following conversation between “the sons of the prophets” and Elisha: “And they said unto him, Behold now, there be with thy servants fifty strong men; let them go, we pray thee, and seek thy master: lest preadventure the spirit of the Lord hath taken him up, and cast him up on some mountain, or into some valley.” And he (Elisha) said, “Ye shall not send.”
Moreover, the prophet Obadiah expresses the same idea concerning Elijah years earlier. In the book of 1 Kings, chapter 18, Elijah appears to Obadiah and tells him to relay a message to his master King Ahab. Obadiah is hesitant to respond to Elijah’s request and complains to him in the following manner:
“And it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from thee, that the spirit of the LORD shall carry thee whither I know not; and so when I come and tell Ahab, and he cannot find thee, he shall slay me: but I thy servant fear the LORD from my youth. (1 Kings 18:12)
Above all this, the New Testament gives witness to the same type of phenomenon with Luke’s account of the evangelist Phillip’s translation from the baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:39). In fact, the same word (harpadzo, Strong’s #NT726) is used for Phillips translation, as is used for the catching away of the saints in 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
Furthermore, when Paul is relating the story of the person “caught up” to the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2-4) it is, again, the word harpadzo (Strong’s #NT726) that is used. No doubt, in the apostle’s mind this was indeed a physical translation that, as in the case of Philip (and Elijah), returned such a one back to his original space and time.
Therefore, the idea of a harpadzo is not unique to a future translation of the saints, but has been common enough in both the Old and New Testaments.
IV. the Nature of the Harpodzo (a.k.a. rapture, translation, catching away, snatched away).
An interesting observation is made from 1 Thessalonians 4:17; namely, that both the resurrected and the living saints are rapture (experience harpadzo). Notice the text reads: “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up” (harpadzo) “together with them...” “Caught up together;” harpadzo together; raptured together. The rapture (harpadzo) is an inclusive term embracing both the resurrected and the living. The word “harpadzo” (Strong’s #NT726) literally means: to snatch up; the KJV renders it “caught up” (1 Thessalonians 4:17; Acts 8:39; and 2 Corinthians 12:2-4). Therefore, the image that we have of this event is one of being caught up and away from the Earth.
I am not 100% sure that is the correct understanding. To begin with, the question has never been answered, or even seriously addressed, as to the location of Heaven. Is Heaven some particular location in space, outside our solar system; or, even beyond the Milky Way? Better yet, is Heaven (Paul’s “third heaven”) a parallel universe occupying the same space as our visible cosmos? Either is possible! How could we truly know, one way or another?
When Paul writes of the resurrection and the “change” (1 Corinthians 15:50-53), he says nothing about departing from this physical world. Much of 1 Corinthians chapter 15 is given to explaining the “change” of both the dead and the living. Paul tells us that the “change” is necessary because “flesh and blood” cannot inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15:50). The type of bodies acquired at the “change” will be like the resurrected body of Jesus (see 1 John 3:2). Christ challenged Thomas to handle His body to prove to him that His resurrection was physical. Jesus informs Thomas that His resurrected body was, indeed, flesh and bone (Luke 24:39). The Bible makes us to know that the resurrected body will not consist of “flesh and blood,” and yet the resurrected body of Jesus did consist of “flesh and bone.” It seems that the blood, which gives mortal life to the flesh (Leviticus 17:11) is “changed” at the quickening of the mortal body by the Holy Spirit, and becomes spirit—itself. (See Romans 8:11, “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”) Therefore, the quickening of the Spirit, at the time of the “change,” would seem to work a molecular transformation that would make the bodies of both the resurrected and the living saints like the resurrected body of Christ.
As we have pointed out, 1 Corinthians 15 does not mention the glorified bodies of the saints departing this physical world. However, in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 Paul writes of being “called up together in the clouds,” and of meeting “the Lord in the air.” Surely, this means the redeem Saints leave the earth for cosmic places unknown. Well, not so fast!
Throughout Scripture “clouds” are symbolic representations of the glory of God. We see this in the cloud that rested on Mount Sinai; the cloud that rested over the tabernacle, and even in the cloud which filled the Temple at times. The rabbis referred to God’s glory as the Shekinah. It is the same “Shekinah,” cloud, and glory that is referenced in the New Testament when “clouds” are associated with Jesus. One is reminded of the cloud on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5). It does seem that clouds and glory are words used interchangeably regarding the harpadzo of the saints. This may best be seen when 1 Thessalonians 4:17 (with its reference to “clouds”), and Colossians 3:4 (with its reference to “glory”) are juxtaposed:
1 Thessalonians 4:17.
Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds ...
When Christ, ..., shall appear, then shall we also appear with him in glory.
From these two passages, it can be asserted, with some degree of logic, that clouds and glory are referencing the same thing.
There is one other thing, about 1 Thessalonians 4:17, which has caused Bible students to imagine that the redeemed saints are transported away from the earth upon being raptured; the statement: “To meet the Lord in the air.” However, the Greek word translated “air” is “aer” (Strong’s #NT109) which means: air (as a natural circumambient), or natural atmosphere. With either word (namely: “clouds,” or “air”), there is no indication of a departure from the planet. The most that can be said is a possible meeting in the sky as Christ returns to earth. Moreover, the dead being brought from the grave (not the natural circumambient) into the atmosphere (their natural circumambient) and joining the living saints, all having glorified bodies, is a very likely interpretation of being “caught up...in the clouds” - i.e. glory, and of meeting “the Lord in the air” - i.e. our natural circumambient.
Admittedly, the physical departure from the earth is the most widely accepted view, but the alternative view I have suggested should not be discounted; especially in the light of the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins found in Matthew 25:1-13, and the simile of the Days of Noah found in Matthew 24:37 through 42.
The Parable of the Ten Virgins
As we consider the nature of the harpadzo, the parable Jesus taught concerning the ten virgins must figure central to the topic (Matthew 25:1-13). The parable was spoken to illustrate the return of Christ, and our gathering together unto Him (2 Thessalonians 2:1). One observes that all ten virgins (the five that were wise and the five that were foolish) await the coming of the bridegroom: namely, Christ. In verse 6 the coming of Christ, i.e. the bridegroom, is announced; this is paralleled in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout ..., etc.,” and 1 Corinthians 15:52, “for the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” At the coming of the bridegroom the wise virgins “went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut” (verse 10). Notice: the bridegroom CAME and the five wise virgins went into the marriage. They were not taken out of the kingdom (i.e. the world), but they were chosen by the bridegroom, and He took (harpadzo) them unto Himself. The marriage takes place in the earth, not away from it.
As It Was In The Days of Noah
Christ gives another example of His coming, and the harpadzo in Matthew 24:37, where he said, “But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” In Noah’s day, after the ark was prepared, Noah and his family went into the ship, but remained in the world; living through the judgment, under the protection of God, while the wicked were being TAKEN AWAY (see Matthew 24:40-41). After the judgment was over, Noah and his family disembarked from the Ark of safety to establish God’s kingdom anew upon a cleansed earth. The wicked were TAKEN and the righteous were LEFT.
One must acknowledge that Jesus establishes the paradigm for His return in the Parable of the Ten Virgins, and the simile of the Days of Noah. The five wise virgins going into the marriage is parallel to Noah and his family entering the Ark, and both speak to the harpadzo; when Jesus returns and gathers His own unto Himself (see 2 Thessalonians 2:1). At this time the wicked are destroyed.
Therefore, it should not be thought, that the saints depart the earth, anymore than do the five virgins or Noah’s family depart. These two similes show the Saints separated from the unrighteous and protected during the judgment, while remaining IN the earth, themselves.
The Time (kairos) of the Harpadzo
This question, alone, has created complete denominations of Christians, and fueled a large economy for the evangelical stratum of Christianity.
We will deal with the subject very straightforward, and to the point. I will simply ask the question and proceed to answer by presenting the evidences.
QUESTION: When will the harpadzo (rapture, catching away, translation) of the Saints take place?
ANSWER: There are two pieces of evidence to this answer: one has to do with the general resurrection, the other has to do with the “last trumpet of God.”
First: According to 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 the harpadzo of the Saints (both living and the resurrected dead) will take place at the time of, but subsequent to, the general resurrection of the dead (see letter 23). What is more, since the general resurrection takes place after the millennial reign of Christ (see Revelation 20:5), the harpadzo must also take place after the thousand years are finished. At this point of revelation it does not, really, matter if one views the thousand years as literal or symbolic, the result is the same: namely, the harpadzo will take place at the close of human history, and signals the beginning of the perfect age; namely, the New Heaven and the New Earth.
Second: Paul informs the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:52) that the “change” (which parallels the harpadzo), also called the “translation,” will take place at the “last trumpet.” It seems that we must assume this “trumpet” to be the same one he references in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 when he is writing on the same topic: Here Paul calls the trumpet—“the trumpet of God.”
Since the “last trumpet” of 1 Corinthians 15:52 is the “last trumpet of God” (as is shown by a comparison of 1 Corinthians 15:52 with 1 Thessalonians 4:16) , we should ascertain how many trumpets of God there are. Of course, the answer to this is SEVEN. In the book of Revelation, John writes of “seven trumpets” (Revelation 8:2-21; 11:15-18) which signal a series of events for the end time.
At the time of the sounding of the final, and seventh, trumpet, a voice is heard in heaven which says, “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever, and ever” (Revelation 11:15). In response to this heavenly herald the representatives of the Church in heaven say, “And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give rewards to thy servants the prophets, and to thy saints, and them that fear thy name small and great” (Revelation 11-18).
Thus, given above is the biblical view of the “last trump of God.” It signals the general resurrection, and judgment of the dead. According to Paul, the harpadzo takes place at the same time.
I trust that these words, though feeble, may help guide you through the Scripture when studying the subject of the rapture. In the spirit of calling biblical things by biblical names, it has occurred to me during the writing of this letter that the Lord’s Church may be better served by referring to the rapture as the “Harpadzo.”
It is my desire that you study the Word of God for all it is worth. As you study, it is also my prayer that you do so with a prayer in your own hearts; one that would petition the Lord that you would be enlightened in all truth.
The Lord God of heaven and earth (namely, Jesus Christ) keep you all in His grace, is my prayer for you.
☩ Jerry Hayes
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