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The Day of Christ - Part 2
The Rapture of the Church

Rapture of the church

by Dennis Pollock

The Bible assures us that there is a Day coming which will be unlike any day our planet has ever seen, or ever will see. It is known as the Day of Jesus Christ, but sometimes the apostle Paul simply called it that Day. Three great and awesome events will occur on this Day. The first is the resurrection of the bodies of all those who have died in Christ. Though their spirits are already in heaven, having shed the physical body upon death, they will now be once again clothed with a physical body. This new body will be far superior to the older version, being incapable of sickness, aging, or death.

In this article we shall consider the second great event which makes up the Day of Christ – the Rapture of the believers still living. Paul writes to the Thessalonians:

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17)

The Great Snatch

Some have protested that the word rapture is not in the Bible. This is true, but the concept clearly is, and if you prefer not to use the word rapture, feel free to tell people that you are excited and looking forward to the great 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and 17! The word rapture comes from the Latin and means to be seized or transported. The normal use of rapture has to do with a strong emotional state. When Christians speak of the Rapture, they refer to the specific words from 1 Thessalonians 4 where we are told that the living believers will be caught up to be with Christ in the air. The Greek word which is translated “caught up” is harpadzo and means: “To seize, carry off by force, to seize on, claim for one's self eagerly.” The idea is that someone is taking something they very much want forcefully and suddenly. This word and concept are applied by Paul to describe Christ taking His saints from the earth on that special Day that is uniquely His.

It is sometimes helpful to gain an understanding of a Greek word used in the Bible by looking at other places where it is used. We find this same word used in the book of Acts where Philip is led by the Spirit to approach the Ethiopian eunuch who is reading the Scriptures in his chariot. Philip shares Christ with the man and he soon asks to be baptized. Philip baptizes him, and as they come up out of the water a curious thing happens. We read in Acts: “Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39). You guessed it – the word translated caught is the Greek word harpadzo. You might say that Philip was raptured – he was suddenly and forcefully snatched away. The Bible tells us that Philip “was found” at a town called Azotus, and kept on preaching Christ as he made his way to Caesarea, his home. But Philip’s rapture was a horizontal one – from one city on earth to another. In the case of the Rapture of 1 Thessalonians it will be a vertical one – from earth to the presence of Christ in the heavens.

The Bible plainly tells us that there is coming a day – this Day of Jesus Christ – where every living Christian will be suddenly caught up into the air to be with Christ. Africans, Mexicans, Chinese, and Americans will be instantly joined around the presence of Christ. Peasants will be snatched from their village meetings, farmers seized from their tractors, housewives suddenly taken from their dishes, and teachers and students from their classes. Some husbands will turn over in bed to find their wives have disappeared, while some wives may call their husbands for dinner only to discover that their husbands are nowhere to be found. The streets will be filled with fearful and puzzled family members calling out desperately to their loved ones.

Never Seen Before

Of course what I am describing sounds utterly fantastic and unbelievable. And there is a good reason for that. It has never happened before in the earth’s history – at least not on that scale. We do have a record of Elijah being caught up into the heavens in a fiery chariot and Enoch suddenly being translated and taken by God but these were individual cases – not a wholesale snatching of a major subset of our earth’s population. Things that happen regularly we can easily accept and believe. Things that happen rarely we find difficult to believe. And things that have never happened are the most difficult of all to believe.

We Christians are admittedly a strange breed. We believe some pretty amazing things. The Bible tells us that Christ was born of a virgin. There was simply no earthly precedent for this. It never happened before, it is not supposed to happen, and no earthly law can explain it. Yet I have never had the least trouble believing this miracle, since I was born again. Jesus walking on the water is another example of this. All over this world millions, if not billions of reasonable, rational, and intelligent men and women believe that Jesus Christ walked on the Sea of Galilee. There is no scientific or logical explanation for this. Yet to me, the explanation is quite simple. If God is truly the Creator of heaven and earth, the One who flung the stars to the farthest corners of the universe and holds the earth and all matter together by the power of His word, why should it be inconceivable that He should intervene in the physical laws that He has established at His own prerogative? Why can He not instantly heal the sick or cause an iron axe head to float or multiply a few fish to feed thousands, or cause a virgin to give birth to His Son?

And why should He not take His people to Himself when He has determined that this present age has run its course? Our Lord Jesus declared: “In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2,3). Just as we will not live on forever in our current bodies, neither will this age continue indefinitely in its present state. The Rapture of the church, the snatching of the believers from the earth, is a definite promise made to us by the Lord Jesus – and He always keeps His promises!

Commanded to Watch

Rapture of the churchNot only is this event promised us; we are commanded to always watch for this Day. Jesus says, “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.” In another place He declares, “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” He tells us two things: what we are to do (watch) and why we are to do it (because we don’t know when it will occur). Indeed the knowledge that Christ could come at any time is to be a major motivation for Christ’s followers to live godly and upright lives. Jesus cautions us: “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly” (Luke 21:34). Paul tell us it will be sudden: “We shall be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51,52). One moment we will be making plans for tomorrow and next week and next year; we will be burdened with various problems that have arisen in our lives and doing our best to figure out a way out of those problems, and the next moment we will be in the presence of Christ, where no problems are allowed to exist, and all our earthly plans and worries seem ridiculously quaint and silly. We will be changed from mortal to immortal, from natural to spiritual, from corruptible to incorruptible.

Those who eagerly watch for the return of our Lord are often accused of being escapists – wimpy, carnal Christians who want a way out of all their problems. In truth the Rapture of the church is an escape, but not in the way our accusers mean. God is not opposed to His children going through hard times, shedding tears, or having to work their way through major problems in their lives. In fact we are guaranteed these things will come our way. "In this world you shall have tribulation" is the promise of our Lord, and this is one promise we don't even need to claim. The difficulties will come whether we claim the promise with all the faith we can muster or completely ignore the promise and pretend it was never given. We will have tribulations!

Saved from Wrath through Christ

The Rapture is not God's way of saving His children from problems. It is His means of saving us from His wrath. The Bible tells believers, "For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5:9). Jesus exhorts us, "Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man" (Luke 21:36). Escape may sound wimpy to some, but in truth it is a very useful concept and it is thoroughly Biblical. Exhortations abound with references to fleeing and escape. In Hebrews 6 Christians are referred to as those "who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us." After warning Timothy about the dangers of the love of money, Paul tells him, "But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness…"

Once when I was ministering in Montana I heard a sad story about a man who failed to escape. This man was a photographer who was out in the forest with his girlfriend taking pictures of a grizzly bear. He had a powerful zoom lens on his camera so it was not necessary to get too close, but being anywhere within smelling distance of a grizzly is a pretty risky business. As the day turned to evening he told his girlfriend to go back to their camp, while he stayed a few more minutes to get a few last photos. But the man never returned. When they went to look for him the next morning they found him dead, terribly mauled by the bear. When they took a look at the pictures in the man's camera they were shocked at his final photo. It was a picture of the bear on his hind legs poised to strike. The man was a faithful photographer to the end, but he was most foolish. He should have been running with all the speed he could manage in an effort to escape.

The cross of Jesus Christ is God's escape provision for the entire human race. By our selfishness, our ungodly words and deeds, and our wicked hearts we have incurred the wages of sin, which is the wrath of God. But in God's great love He has sent Jesus Christ to die in our place and rise again, that we might believe on Him and escape the wages we deserve, and instead inherit the free gift of eternal life. The Rapture of the church will be a manifestation of this free gift, as we are snatched by Christ away from the judgment that is coming upon this wicked world. As Lot and his family were led out of Sodom by the angel's hand, and as Noah and his family were saved from the flood by an ark, Jesus promises us, "I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world" (Revelation 3:10).

"As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man" (Luke 17:26).

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