"For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord." (1Th 4:16-17 NAU)
Greek - ἁρπάζω harpazo Meaning: to seize, catch up, snatch away (Strong's)
The Vulgate, a Latin translation, uses the word "rapiemur" which means "to catch up." This is the source of our English word "rapture."
The Prophet Daniel (Dan 2:24) was told that Seventy weeks (of years) "have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place."
It is known that 69 of those weeks have been fulfilled and that the 70th week of years (1 week=7 days=7 years) remains wherein the God focus is on Daniels people—Israel.
That last week of years is known as tribulation period and is divided, in scriptures, into two periods of 3 ½ years or 1260 days each which some have labeled as the time of the wrath of the anti-Christ followed by the time of the wrath of YHWH.
The "caught up" event (hereafter rapture) which Paul speaks of in 1Th 4:16-17 occurs at some point around this tribulation period. A hallmark of the event is that The Lord will come as a thief in the night—unexpected or when least expected—this in keeping with the meaning of the Greek word harpazo - to snatch.
That there will be a rapture event seems mostly uncontested. There is, however, much controversy over the timing of this event with three main positions all related to their timing in respect of this 7 year tribulation period:
- Pre-tribulation - before the tribulation period begins
- Mid-tribulation or Pre-wrath - in the middle of the 7 year period or before God pours out His wrath on the earth
- Post-tribulation - at the end of the tribulation period
What is seldom, if ever, addressed is a reason for a rapture event. Why have a rapture? Is it necessary, does it have purpose, or simply a power display?
Whatever the reason, a rapture would seem to be redundant as a post-tribulation event since all the hardship is over and there would seem little or no good reason to rescue the over-comers from coming 1000 year reign of King Jesus—the perfect ruler. In fact, references to the end-time event suggest it will be the wicked that are taken out prior to His reign, leaving only the righteous:
"So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will throw them into the furnace of fire" (Matt 13:49-50 NAU)
Some point to the Olivet Discourse to support this position, where it reads:
"And he shall send forth his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." (Matt 24:31 ASV)
But this refers to a gathering of his elect from "one end of heaven to the other." This is not a gathering from the four corners of the earth. Seems the elect are already in heaven for this rapture… sorry, this gathering since it's not a rapture.
The Mid-trib or Pre-Wrath position at least offers a purpose. If the last half of the Tribulation period represents an outpouring of God's wrath then a rapture in advance of that would satisfy scripture where it reads, "we shall be saved from the wrath of God " (Rom 5:9 NAU).
The Pre-trib position also has a purpose if Jesus' words to the angel (aggelos) of the assembly in Philadelphia pertain to the end times - "Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth." (Rev 3:10 NAU)
"When the messengers (aggelos) of John had left, He began to speak to the crowds about John" (Luke 7:24 NAU)
I have highlighted the word messengers here because in most cases this word is translated "angels" but in a few cases as "messenger" or "messengers" when referencing men. It seems more likely that Jesus is speaking to the people or leaders of the assembly in Philadelphia than to an angel. How could John deliver this to an angel?
As to the Gospels, Jesus would not reference a rapture event there if it is primarily a Messianic Gentile event and his message in the gospels was primarily for the lost sheep of Israel (see Of Covenants and Favour).
A Suggested Reason For a Rapture Event
I'd like to propose two reasons why a rapture event is necessary.
The first is rooted in a mystery...
"For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in;" (Rom 11:25 NAU)
In 2 Corinthians 3:14 Paul writes of the hardening of the hearts of the sons of Israel and a veil that prevents them from see the truth of the New Covanent. Why is it necessary to prevent them from seeing Yeshua as their Messiah until the fullness or the quota of Gentiles has taken advantage of this opportunity to come into relationship with the God of the Israel through Yeshua? Why not allow one and all come in?
Romans 11:20 tells us that it was Israel's unbelief and partial hardening that provided the opportunity for the Gentiles to be saved. Will Israel's repentance and acceptance of Yeshua as their Messiah bring an end to that opportunity—until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in.
"You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in. Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear" (Rom 11:19-20 NAU)
If it was necessary for Israel to be removed from the covenant so that Messianic Gentiles could be grafted in, could the reverse be true as well—that the Messianic Gentiles need to be removed so that the Israel could again be grafted in? Is there a contractual obligation in such a move?
In contractual terms, and repeated many times in the Old Testament, God made a contract or covenant with the children of Israel to be their God and they his people using words that seems to exclude the Gentiles:
"...do according to all which I command you; so you shall be My people, and I will be your God" (Jer 11:4 NAU)
If it was Israel's rejection of God, the Son, which broke the contract and gave opportunity to the Gentiles to come into relations with God, will it be Israel's acceptance of God, the Son, as their Messiah which reinstates that contract and closes the door to the Gentiles? Is God contractually obligated to be God to Israel again—to the exclusion of all others?
Could it be that the assembly of Messianic Gentiles needs to be caught up, off the earth, so that God does not violate His contractual agreement to be God to Israel alone?
The second reason comes out of the story of Lot, Abraham’s nephew, and his family.
God was restrained from judging Sodom and Gomorrah until Lot and his family were removed.
"Hurry, escape there, for I cannot do anything until you arrive there." (Gen 19:22 NAU)
So too, God’s judgement of the nations is restrained until those who have become the seed of Abraham in Yeshua are removed. As I read Revelation, Israel is not removed, but is protected, during the various judgements on the nations.
Yes, a lot of questions, no definitive answers, but, hopefully, food for thought.
©2015, steven, a man.
All publishing rights reserved. Permission is granted to reprint this article for personal use; however, no commercial re-publishing of the material in this article is permitted without prior written consent.
Steven is the author of Fathered by God and with his wife Dianne, co-author of Dream Dreams and Dreams the Heal and Counsel. He has been a guest on the Miracle Channel, Trinity Television, and Crossroads Communication, and have taught internationally on various topics.