July 6, 2020
Certainly, one of the most debated points of Christian theology is the idea of the rapture of the church—the catching away of God’s people at some future time in miraculous fashion. Great men and women of God have disagreed on this issue. Regardless of where you come down on the rapture issue, you should be encouraged that God has a plan to unite Himself permanently with His people. For example, consider 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
The resurrection of Christians who have died and the catching-away of Christians who are alive happens at the same moment in a single event. This event we call “rapture” can be found in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (harpazo) and means “caught up” or “taken, snatched up, seized.” It is a future form of the verb that hasn’t happened yet. Unfortunately, it was a detail that the great theologian John Calvin, I believe, missed in his excellent commentary on 1 Thessalonians when he treated the verb as past tense, speaking of salvation. But this same word is used 14 times in the New Testament and is translated numerous times as “take by force” or “snatch away.” It is used of the Spirit of the Lord “carrying Philip away” in Acts 8, Paul used it to describe being “caught up” to the third heaven in 2 Corinthians 12, and it is used of Christ being “caught up” to God and His throne in Revelation 12.
There is no wiggle room for the meaning of this word. It is sudden, and the person being caught up has no control over this—it just happens. The English translation of the Latin translation of this word gives us the word “rapture.” If you want to stay strictly Greek in the form (of harpazo) used in this text, then we could call it the harpagesometha. That doesn’t have as much of a poetic sound and takes too long to say, so “rapture” works pretty well instead. It expresses suddenness and immediacy, a sudden irresistible carrying-off by force.
How does the doctrine of the rapture of the church impact you directly, and why does this matter to your daily walk with the Lord? The rapture is the event that will elevate all Christians to heaven—those who will have died being reunited with their now-glorified bodies, and those who will be alive being translated into glorified bodies. It elevates the authority of Scripture and our love for Christ. As the purpose of it is stated in 1 Thes. 4:18, to “encourage one another with these words.” And in the meantime, let us live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, praying daily for His return, just as generations of Christians have prayed since the day Christ ascended into heaven!