Is There a Rapture of God’s People?
By Josh Breslaw
I grew up in a standard SBC church in the 1990s and 2000s. When it came to issues of Eschatology, we were Premillennial Dispensationalists even if less than 10% of the congregation knew what any of those words meant. We believed that the timeline was pretty clear. We followed in the footsteps of Scofield, Darby, and later Hal Lindsay and Tim LaHaye. The order of Revelation, in our minds, went today, then rapture, then seven years of tribulation culminating in Armageddon, then Millennium, then final battle, then new heaven and earth. Pretty cut and dry. We were taught to watch for the signs because the Rapture could happen at any moment. We were told to make sure our friends at school are ready. I remember being on a bus trip in high school and listening to my CD Walkman (2000s seem so archaic at this point) and a cover of “I wish we’d all been ready” by DC Talk was on my CD. I looked around at the bus and thought about the other kids who would not be ready for the Rapture if I did not tell them about Jesus. The Rapture was such a part of my theology that I remember having a dream the week before high school graduation of the Rapture taking place and being upset because it happened before I could graduate!
Fast forward to my second year of college at ETBU and my first semester Greek class. My professor casually mentions that he does not believe there will be a Rapture. He then starts to explain the Greek (which will follow shortly) and hits us with this question: How many Second Comings of Christ are there? This was my first experience with someone questioning the Eschatology that was simply assumed at my home church. This became something I wrestled with off and on for a decade and rarely preached on the subject. That is until I heard from God at the beginning of my DMin classes. I was going to do my DMin project on preaching Revelation in a way that is applicable to daily life. This led to my deep study of if/when a Rapture of God’s People will occur.
Even those who do not know the word eschatology know about the Rapture. Surprisingly, the concept of the Rapture is not easily found in Revelation. Instead, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 is one of the key passages for rapture theology:
For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever (italics added).
Those who believe in the Rapture point to the verb “caught up” or ἁρπαγησόμεθα. A more complete definition is “to grab or seize suddenly so as to remove or gain control…in such a way that no resistance is offered.” This action seems to indicate that Christians will be plucked from the earth and taken away. However, the Greek word for “to meet” is ἀπάντησιν. This word presents a problem for those who support the Rapture. Typically, ἀπάντησιν was used for people who went out of their town to welcome a royal official. In fact, Matthew 25:6 and Acts 28:15 use ἀπάντησιν in a manner where a group meets an important person to escort them for the rest of the journey. It only stands to reason that a royal official does not turn around but continues toward the homes of the people. F. F. Bruce asserts that the use of the word ἀπάντησιν in this passage cannot determine whether Jesus or Christians turn around when they meet in the air. It seems more likely given the lack of specificity about a rapture in Revelation that Jesus does not take Christians to heaven, but Christians escort Jesus back to earth.
Elsewhere in the New Testament, some dispensational scholars, such as S. E. English, A. C. Gaebelein, and John F. Walvoord, find the Rapture in Matthew 24:36-44. If one is looking for a Rapture, then verses 40-41 seem to support some being taken and others being left behind. However, this is not the point of the passage. Jesus is initially answering a question from the disciples regarding when the temple will be destroyed (c.f. Mt. 24:1-3). Jesus is prompting the disciples to be ready and alert because the Son of Man can return at any time. These verses do not support a timeline that requires two returns, but Matthew portrays one final event. A Rapture is not part of Matthew’s eschatology. “The dispensational approach to the Olivet Discourse must be judged historically implausible in reference to both the history of Jesus and the history of interpretation.”
Nevertheless, Dispensationalists, such as Scofield in the past and LaHaye today, believe that the church will be raptured. Most Dispensationalists believe in a Pre-tribulation Rapture. They cite Revelation 4:1 when the voice tells John “Come up here…” They also note that the church is mentioned in Revelation 2-3 but not mentioned again in Revelation. One problem with this interpretation is that the phrase “Come up here” is in the singular and is clearly spoken to John.
Another interpretation is the Mid-tribulation or Pre-wrath Rapture which happens halfway through the seven years of tribulation before the bowls of wrath in Revelation 15-16. This interpretation reads the message in Revelation 11:12 when the two witnesses have been resurrected and a loud voice from heaven cries to them “Come up, here” as a call for the entire church. In this view, the seventh trumpet in Revelation 11:15 is the same trumpet as 1 Thessalonians 4:16. There could be some truth to this argument since the witnesses most likely represent the church. Given that, it has more merit than a Pre-tribulation Rapture. However, most dispensationalists would completely disregard this idea because their interpretation has two literal humans being the witnesses halfway through the tribulation. Since the other viewpoints of Revelation tend not to see Revelation literally, this view is a minority view.
Finally, a Post-tribulation view of the Rapture believes the church will be raptured at the end of the seven years of tribulation but before Jesus defeats the armies at Armageddon in Revelation 19:11-21. The biblical support for this view is not mainly from Revelation but from Matthew 24:29-31. Since the tribes mourn before the Son of Man comes, the theory of the Post-tribulation Rapture surmises that the Rapture comes after the tribulation. It could be possible to see a Post-tribulation Rapture from Revelation 18:4 with another voice saying “Come out of her, my people…” but that would be taking these words completely out of context.
In my opinion, none of the theories of a Rapture hold up to scrutiny. The idea of a Rapture appears mainly to be a misinterpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. The place of a possible rapture in Revelation is unclear. Mounce surmises accurately: “the very discussion of a ‘rapture of the church’ lies outside John’s frame of reference. He knows nothing of such a ‘rapture.’”
I believe that Jesus will return again, but his second coming is the last coming. When Jesus returns, He will usher in the new heaven and new earth. It will happen in the blink of an eye, and we do need to be ready. But there is no rapture to save Christians from Tribulation. The days of tribulation are now; the days of tribulation have been occurring since Jesus left the first time. We are not physically saved from the tumults of this earth. We are spiritually saved though. And I hope we spread that message of salvation to a world that needs to be ready for the Second Coming of Christ.
 BDAG, 134.
 Erik Peterson, “ἀπάντησιν,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 1, Gerhard Kittel, ed., Geoffrey W. Bromiley, trans. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 380-81.
 F. Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 45, David A. Hubbard, ed. (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1982), 102-3.
 A. Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 8, Frank E. Gaebelein, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), “Fifth Discourse: The Olivet Discourse,” Logos.
 “Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.”
 M. Eugene Boring, “The Gospel of Matthew,” in New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. VIII, Leander E. Keck, ed. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1994), “Matthew 24:4-31, The ‘Little Apocalypse’,” Logos.
 Carson, “Fifth Discourse: The Olivet Discourse,” Logos.
 Koester, “12. General Comments on the Second Cycle, A. History of Interpretation,” Logos.
 Summers, 163-65.
 Mounce, 119.
*The views expressed are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pastor’s Common