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THEOLOGY > Future > The End of the Age > The Blessed Hope > The Word "Rapture"      


The word “rapture” does not appear in the Bible, but the constant reference to it in Biblical writings would cause many students to believe that it is used in the Scriptures. Its importance has been elevated by the Dispensationalists who equate it with a supposed event that will occur at the beginning of the Great Tribulation. In the popular mind the Rapture is the most important and imposing eschatological event.

Because a word does not appear in the Scriptures does not invalidate the concept conveyed by the word, for the words “trinity” and “Bible” do not appear in the Bible. But when the concept associated with the particular word is so corrupt and inconsistent with historical hermeneutics, the use of the word does become suspect.

Origin of the word – “Rapture” is from the Latin word raptio, meaning “to carry off,” “to seize,” or “to take.” This Latin word is used in the Vulgate to translate the Greek word, harpazō, meaning “caught up” (I Thess. 4:17) and is so translated in the NKJV and ESV.

This Greek word appears in other texts in the New Testament: Matt. 13:19; Acts 8:39; II Cor. 12:2, 4; Rev. 12:5. Consistently the meaning is “to catch away” or “to snatch away.”

Meaning of the word – Dispensationalists define the word as the end-time event when Christ will come in the air, but not back to the earth, and will take to Himself the Church, which, according to them, is composed of believers since the time of Pentecost. The Church will be carried to heaven and be there during the time of the Great Tribulation on the earth, thus escaping the suffering and martyrdom depicted in the Olivet Discourse and the book of Revelation.

From this understanding has been put forward the popular of concept of “Left Behind”; the idea that some will be taken and some will be left (Matt. 24:36-44). So the idea of “Left Behind” is associated with the gathering of the Church to Christ before the Great Tribulation.

But in the Olivet Discourse this description of one taken and one left follows the account of the Return of Christ (Matt. 24:30-31), which most emphatically comes after the tribulation period (Matt. 24:29). Whatever the precise meaning of taken and left, whether past event or future event, the imagery cannot be the so-called Rapture of the Church before the Great Tribulation.

Central to the meaning of the word as the Dispensationalists define it is the idea that the Second Coming of Christ is in two stages: first, the Rapture (Christ coming for the Church, a private event); and second, the Revelation (Christ coming with the Church, a public event). Such a scheme arises from creative exegesis of the text by the interpreter, and not from definitive statements within the text (see: One Second Coming).

Also central to this scheme is the understanding that the Rapture is the secret catching away of the Church, an event that is imminent and could happen at any moment. But how can it be secret and imminent when Jesus plainly taught in the Olivet Discourse that He would return after the tribulation (see: After the Tribulation and Question of Imminency).

Dispensational understanding is grievously wrong in several ways: the timing of the event, the description of the event, and the identity of those who will be taken when the event occurs. In addition to this is the fact that the Dispensational interpretation is of very recent history and is highly suspicious because of its precise origin. For a fuller understanding see: The Rapture Question.

Use of the word – In the popular mindset the word “Rapture” has come to be equated with Dispensational Premillennialism. This usage does not have historical roots, for it only reaches back to the period following 1830 (see: A Recent Interpretation).

A position must be taken on whether the word should be identified with the Dispensational viewpoint, or whether the word more correctly should be identified with the resurrection and gathering of all believers, OT and NT saints, by the Lord at His Second Coming following the Tribulation. If the latter be the case then the passage in I Thessalonians speaks more of a resurrection than the modern idea of escapism that is ascribed to the Rapture by those who adhere to Dispensational thinking.

Because of the current baggage associated with the word, perhaps it is best to refrain from using it all together; consider the following observation:

I ordinarily do not use the word “rapture” as a short designation of the resurrection of the righteous dead and their translation with the righteous living at our Lord’s return, because in our time many who read the word “rapture” will bring to it a whole complex of popular end-time scheduling which may or may not be scriptural. The teaching of I Thessalonians 4:13-18 has great capacity for spectacular enlargement by creative imagination. Several series of fictional books and movies, built on the words “one shall be taken and the other left,” have captured evangelical readers in recent generations. Presently a whole series of movies and novels employ the “left behind” theme. When “rapture of the church” is read the result is just as the American West of pioneer times is imprinted on minds by Gary Cooper and John Wayne movies, more than by memory of the elders, and bona fide historical literature. The public in general (including naïve and theologically neglected church folk) bring a prophetic “schedule” and supposed spectacular end-time events at the “coming” of the Lord, its precursors and sequents, to the subject. Distortion of the doctrine by spectacular imagination has created a prophetic paradigm for which, even if correct in part, has been accepted without knowledge of the basis for it. How many, for example, could supply biblical support for “seven years of tribulation”? Most would not know even the chapters of the Old Testament and New Testament to consult. So I try to avoid the word which triggers a partly fictitious paradigm of prophecy (Culver, ST, 1132-1133).

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