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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The rapture?

Many Christians believe in a rapture, a time when Christians who are alive will be suddenly removed from the earth. Not all Christians do, however, and there are differences as to the expected timing and mode of the rapture among those who do believe in one.

1 Thessalonians 4:14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we tell you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left to the coming of the Lord, will in no way precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with God’s trumpet. The dead in Christ will rise first, 17 then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. So we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. (World English Bible, public domain)

Where does this belief come from? Is that word, rapture, in the Bible? The main, perhaps the only source, is 1 Thessalonians 4:17, given above, which doesn't actually use the word, rapture. The Blueletter Bible gives a number of translations of the verse, here, none of which have this word. The Latin Vulgate uses rapiemur, and, as I understand it, rapture is derived from that Latin word. There's a Wikimedia entry on rapiemur. The Wiktionary entry on rapture supports that, and also indicates that rapture, in English, has another, more common meaning, namely extreme pleasure.

One apparent teaching of the passage above is that the return of Christ will not be like many have portrayed it. There is a common belief about that return, namely that it will be stealthy -- those left behind will not realize what happened to believers. They will just disappear. But that idea is not suggested by the passage above. On the contrary, it seems that Christ's return will be widely recognized.

Some Bible scholars believe that the passage quoted above is a prophecy about the once and only return of Christ. They reject the idea that He will come once, for the church, and then return again to judge.

Here's the Blueletter Bible's Greek lexicon listing for apantesis, which means to meet one. There are four instances in the New Testament, in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, and also in Matthew 25:1 and 6, and Acts 28:15.

At least one writer believes that apantesis, based on the other uses in the New Testament, means that 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is describing going up to meet Christ, and then coming down with him. Here's Matthew 25:1 “Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins, who took their lamps, and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 Those who were foolish, when they took their lamps, took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. 5 Now while the bridegroom delayed, they all slumbered and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold! The bridegroom is coming! Come out to meet him!’ 7 Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. . . . In this case, apantesis seems to mean meeting, with the expectation of coming back with the person met.  So it's a welcoming committee, not an escape, in Matthew. I'm not sure that that rules out meeting someone, and then leaving, but it casts some doubt on that idea.

That same writer, basing his argument on Matthew 24, where Jesus indicates that His return will be like the sudden coming of the Flood, in the time of Noah, says that those taken by the Flood were not Noah's family, but the evil people who rejected Noah's teaching. That is true, but not everyone agrees that that means that evil people, who rejected Christ, will be taken away when He comes, and believers will be left behind.

I'm not going to solve the arguments about end times in this post, of course. The important thing about Christ's return, whenever and however it occurs, is to be ready. Thanks for reading. Be ready!

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