The ‘Rapture of the Church’ is a phrase that is commonly heard in Christian circles, and refers to a belief that there will shortly be an event of enormous significance to the Christian: namely, when Jesus Christ snatches his Church out of this world.
Another view says that this is not so, and that the rapture takes place after the first 3½ years of the tribulation, called ‘mid-tribulationist’.
A third view is that the Church suffers the full tribulation period before Jesus Christ returns. This is termed ‘Post-tribulationist’.
With the first two views, if it is believed that the Millenial Kingdom will be on earth, then Jesus must have a Third Coming, to return the believers to the earth.
Obviously not all of these views can be correct; one could be correct or else all three must be in error. Let us look at the verse and see what we can work out to be a reasonable understanding.
In John 10, Jesus tells of the effect of a wolf if it gets access to a flock of sheep.
"the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep."
"the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it." NIV
Hardly grounds in this verse to have the sheep raptured!
Matthew 13 narrates the parable of the sower. In verse 19 it is stated,
"Then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart."
"the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart." NIV
And an example from the book of Acts:
"He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him to the barracks." Acts 23:10
Again, Paul was not raptured in the sense of being ‘caught up’. The word ‘harpazo’ was used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint) in 34 places. In Amos (4:11), for example, the word is the basis for the translation "as a firebrand plucked out of the burning", and in Zechariah (3:2) the wording is very similar, "is not this a brand plucked out of the fire."
So we see in the word ‘harpazo’ a quick, intentional movement, but it is one without specific direction. In none of the 13 New Testament and 34 Old Testament occasions does it convey a ‘zapping’ in a particular direction. It is, as defined, a seizing, snatching out, or to carry off speedily.
You will notice the square brackets put around two of the definite articles, ‘the’, in the earlier quotation of 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17, ‘[the] clouds’ and ‘[the] air’. This is to indicate that they are not in the Greek manscript. In these two places there are no definite articles, nor are they inferred. So we must ask "Why not"? We believe that the original Scripture was Divinely inspired, and that, although each writer wrote a true expression of his thoughts, his writing was still such as to convey a true message. And that message did not need the definite articles.
When Jesus ascended to heaven, the ascent was witnessed by some of his disciples. In Acts chapter 1 we read,
"And when he had spoken these things, while thy beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." vv 9–11
The message appears to be very clear: Jesus ascended to heaven through cloud, and his return would be the same situation, but the direction reversed. He would be coming back here. Now the disciples had been standing, not at ground level, but on a hill. The mount of Olives has a number of summits, the highest being 903 metres (2963 feet) , at which level it can be enveloped with cloud. So we can imagine the disciples there as a cloud moved across the area where they were standing and Jesus being no longer there when the sky cleared. The angels standing at their side said that his return would be the converse.
And so it is no wonder that when we turn to this passage in 1 Thessalonians 4, we have Jesus’ return being associated with a cloud cover. There is a very clear verse of prophecy in Zechariah 14, which is unmistakably foretelling the return of Jesus Christ (14:4):
"And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof …"
Since this prophecy was not fulfilled in the first appearance of Jesus Christ, it must be referring to his Second Coming.
There is another prophecy relating to this particular event, spoken this time by a man who should be qualified to know: Jesus Christ himself.
"And then shall they see the Son of man coming in clouds [again no definite article in original] with great power and glory." Mark 13:26,27
Notice how superbly they fit in with his appearance as recorded in the 1 Thessalonians 4 passage. And there is an additional confirmation yet, in the word "aer" as the meeting place for the Believers in Jesus.
There are two words in the New Testament which translate as air. One is ‘aer’, as in this passage, and the other is ‘ouranos’. This latter represents the expanse of air from immediately above the earth where the birds are able to fly, upwards as far as the Greek imagination could describe—to heaven and beyond.
The second word, ‘aer’, refers to ‘the air, particularly the lower and denser, as distinguished from the higher and rarer’ [Thayer]. In the New Testament this latter word is always associated only with air at normal human height. For example, the writer of the book of Acts uses both words: ‘ouranos’ when speaking of the fowls of the air (Acts 10:12, 11:6), and ‘aer’ when speaking of people who¼
"cast off their clothes, and threw dust into the air [Gk: aer] ". Acts 22:23
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he writes,
"So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air [Gk: aer]."
1 Corinthians 14:9
The term ‘aer’ indicates that the meeting with the Lord will not take place in the sky, but in the normal breathable atmosphere as encountered at ground level. There are other Scriptures that suggest that the meeting will be on a hill (Acts 1:9,12. Zechariah 14:4).
So this verse tells us very much the same information that is found elsewhere. It speaks of the second coming of Jesus Christ. The writer to the Hebrews states,
"So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation."
Jesus is to appear a second time. And nowhere does it ever suggest a third time as the popular "Rapture" theory would need. His return brings with it a judgment, and an immediate setting up of his Kingdom. Take, for example,.the following passage:
"I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word …"
2 Timothy 4:1
We note here that the judgment takes priority at his return, which is taken as being synonymous with his appearing. He doesn’t say that, after his coming there is Judgment No. 1, followed by a disappearing for seven years, followed by a third coming, a Judgment No. 2, and then the Kingdom. The appearing, judgment, and setting up of the kingdom are always treated as concurrent events. And those events take place after the tribulation period. Mark 13:24 tells of this in very plain words which do not find their way into the paper-back books on the rapture.
"But in those days, After that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory."
Returning to the prophet Zechariah, we see the same message,
"Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then will the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives…" Zechariah 14:1–4a
Daniel 12:1–3 tells of the same sequence. So do the Gospels of Matthew (24:29-51) and Luke (21:25-36). Matthew 25 narrates several parables that have the express purpose of warning that there is to be only one return of Jesus Christ, and that if we are not ready for it then we will miss out on a place in the kingdom.
Why then, is there this ‘7-year, escape tribulation’ theory?
It comes from an interpretation of the seventieth week of Daniel’s vision of the seventy weeks (Daniel 9:20–27). Those who hold to this position believe that the first sixty-nine weeks have been fulfilled with the first coming of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70. They assert that between the first sixty-nine weeks and the seventieth week, an indefinite period of time exists; a period of time extending from Christ’s first coming until the beginning of the tribulation.
However, we find it very difficult to believe that Daniel’s seventy weeks can be divided up in this manner. Daniel was told that these seventy weeks would be divided up into three periods:
(1) a seven-week period, followed by
(2) a sixty-two week period, followed by
(3) a one-week period.
Each week would represent a period of seven years. Since period (2) followed period (1) without any intervening gap, and since there is nothing to indicate that there is a gap between periods (2) and (3), it is only logical to assume that period three followed consecutively after period (2).
In fact it clearly did have its fulfilment. The sixty-nine weeks were fulfilled when Jesus began his ministry, probably about AD29. In verse 27 it states that "he [the Messiah, v25] shall confirm the covenant for one week [ie, the seventieth], but in the midst of it he would cause the sacrifice to cease". In the preceding verse he was spoken of as being cut-off. Three and a half years after Jesus’ ministry began, it was cut-off through the sacrifice of his own body. After a further three-and-a-half years of the apostle’s ministry, the Gentiles were admitted to the church (or, ecclesia (Ecclesia is a Greek word meaning a selected ['called out'] group of people.)) of God. This seventy-week prophecy of Daniel had received a complete fulfilment.
Again, Daniel uses a time period described by the phrase, "time and times and the dividing of time" (Daniel 7:25; 12:7 and Revelation 12:14). The expression ‘times’ means years, and if we allow 360 days per year, as the basis of the Babylonian calendar that existed at that time, the phrase is interpreted as follows:
time 360 ´ 1 = 360
times 360 ´ 2 = 720
dividing of time 360 ¸ 2 = 180
This number comes up again in Revelation 11:3 and 12:6 as 1260 days, and in Revelation 11:2 and 13:5 as "forty and two months": seven references altogether. But the same principle used in interpreting the seventy-weeks prophecy, that of a day standing for a year, is ignored at this point, and the period is taken literally at face value of 3½ years. But this ignores the principle acknowledged earlier, that Daniel uses the day–for–a–year Divine principle, as did Ezekiel:
"Lie thou also upon thy left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it: according to the number of days that thou shalt lie upon it thou shall bear their iniquity. For I have laid on thee the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days: so shalt thou bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. And when thou hast accomplished them, lie again on thy right side, and thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed thee each day for a year." Ezekiel 4:4–6
The 1260 days represent a period of supremacy of the Roman beast for 1260 years, which was fulfilled in the period from the acknowledgment of the Pope as Universal Bishop by Justinian in 533AD, till the Papal power to persecute was broken by the French Revolution in 1793: a period of exactly 1260 years.
There is no evidence for the fanciful ‘rapture, then seven years in heaven’ theory. It is inconsistent with logic, and it is inconsistent with the Bible message as a whole.
There is going to be a period of tribulation on the earth, and it is clear that we will to a significant degree be exposed to it. But we will have a measure of protection, for Christ will return to take aside his saints for judgment. At the end of Arma-geddon, Jesus will set up his Kingdom, and this will continue for about 1000 years, after which sin and its effects will be completely removed from the earth forever. You can be part of that Kingdom if you are ready for Christ when he returns.
World signs show that his return is very close. In the meantime, we ask that you think about your salvation, and check for yourself the message contained in the Bible.